Washington, May 23 : Women are twice as likely as men to suffer from celiac disease, an autoimmune digestive disorder that wreaks havoc on the body's intestines when foods containing gluten are consumed.
Gluten is a protein found in many grains and is in a multitude of foods that include wheat, rye, barley or oats. When foods with gluten are digested, an immune reaction is triggered that damages the surface of the small intestine.
Celiac disease is difficult to diagnose. Many people with the condition complain of diarrhoea, bloating and abdominal pain. One complication of the disease is malabsorption, which can present with weight loss, foul-smelling stools, gas, bloating, weakness and poor growth (in children).
"In the United States, many cases remain undiagnosed because symptoms vary from person to person and because physicians have not been adequately trained in what to look for," said Dr Alessio Fasano, professor of pediatrics, medicine and physiology at the University of Maryland School of Medicine in Baltimore and director of its Centre for Celiac Research, in the centre's newsletter.
"A diagnosis means that patients can be advised to eat a gluten-free diet in order to stop the progression of celiac disease.
"If the chronic symptoms continue, patients are at risk of long-term complications such as anaemia, infertility, osteoporosis or even cancer," Fasano added.
A simple blood test can help in easier diagnosis of the disease. For the diagnosis, it's necessary to examine a sample of intestinal tissue to look for damage.
Although there is currently no cure for celiac disease, it can be effectively managed by excluding gluten from the diet.