3 Hidden signs of celiac disease in children

Some children show few or no signs of celiac disease, but watch for these 3 symptoms to see if your child should be screened

It’s not commonplace for a child to need a gluten-free diet to stay healthy, but when it’s your child, you want the facts and a plan. One in every 130 children has celiac disease, an autoimmune disorder in which gluten (a protein in wheat, rye, and barley) inflames the intestines.

Michele Alkalay, M.D., Director of the Pediatric Celiac Disease Program at Children’s Health℠ and Assistant Professor at UT Southwestern, says a third of children with celiac disease don’t show any symptoms at all. However, there are signs of celiac disease parents might notice in their children.

1. Chronic abdominal pain

Chronic abdominal pain is pain that occurs for more than three months, though it may come and go during that time. If your child has celiac disease and eats gluten, the gluten can inflame the lining of the intestines, causing this pain.

Since a lot of other problems can cause chronic abdominal pain, too, you should always take your child to the pediatrician if he or she has consistent or long-lasting abdominal pain.

“If the pain is really severe, you should go to the emergency room,” says Dr. Alkalay. “If the pain lasts months and impedes your child’s daily activity, he or she should be evaluated by a doctor.”

2. Constipation

Children may have constipation if they don’t move their bowels regularly, or when they do go, they have a very hard time using the restroom. Children can develop constipation for many reasons, including celiac disease.

Dr. Alkalay says the number-one cause of constipation is functional problems. Children with functional constipation have no health problems, but can’t go because they held it too long, don’t eat enough fiber or don’t drink enough water.

“It’s very uncommon for children, especially teens, to get constipated if they are drinking liquids and eating a high-fiber diet,” says Dr. Alkalay. “That’s when we start checking for problems like celiac disease or thyroid issues.”

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