Celiac disease is an autoimmune disorder. Discovered in the 1940s by Dutch pediatrician Willem-Karel Dicke, celiac disease affects the small intestine and interferes with the digestive process. Although hereditary, the outbreak of celiac disease is triggered by environmental factors. Currently there is no cure, but a person can heal his small intestine in a year’s time by following a strict diet free from the harmful peptides found in grains with gluten: wheat, barley, rye, and some oats. To avoid redamaging the small intestine, a person with celiac disease must follow this diet for the rest of his life.

When a person with celiac disease eats gluten, her autoimmune system attacks and inflames her small intestine. The villi in the small intestine become damaged and unable to absorb nutrients into the blood stream. Over time the resulting malnutrition causes a number of undesirable symptoms.

Symptoms of celiac disease can include abdominal bloating and pain, diarrhea, weight loss, fatigue, irritability, depression, mouth sores, late puberty, and skin rashes. However, many celiacs show no symptoms. The disease may not “turn on” until a stressful event occurs such as illness, surgery, pregnancy, or, for babies, trying solid food for the first time.

Celiac disease is also known as coeliac disease, celiac sprue, gluten-sensitive enteropathy, and nontropical sprue.