Dinner time has changed a lot over the last year for Susan Morton. She's now gluten free, after being diagnosed with a condition that affects a growing number of Americans... Celiac Disease.
"1 in 133 people are affected by Celiac Disease. And if you're like me, you don't know it," said Susan.
She didn't realize that she had been explaining away her symptoms.
"It was always, well that meal didn't agree with me... or I worked out too hard. That's why my joints hurt," she said.
Joint pain and hair loss are just two of the many symptoms that can present with Celiac Disease. According to the Celiac Disease Foundation, other symptoms can include abdominal pain and diarrhea, numbness of the hands and feet, lack of energy, migraines and depression.
Experts believe it's the unexplained, vague nature of symptoms like these that cause many patients not to realize the real source of the problem.
If it is Celiac Disease, the problem is gluten. It's found in wheat, barley and rye.
"The reaction of the immune system to gluten causes damage to the small intestines," says Dr. Lukasz Kowalczyk, a gastroenterologist with Colorado Springs Health Partners.
He says it affects kids and adults and, if left untreated, in extreme cases, can lead to even more serious health issues.
“There are actually cancers that can develop as a result of Celiac Disease,” says Dr. Kowalczyk.
The good news is that it’s easy to be diagnosed.
“Celiac disease is easily diagnosable through a blood test,” he said.
But what's more complicated are the major lifestyle changes required if it is Celiac Disease. And, as Susan found out, it doesn't mean just giving up bread.
“Gluten can be in everything. It can be in drugs,” she said. “It can be in toothpaste. It can be in cosmetics. So you have to be really careful.”
But after four months of being gluten-free, Susan feels the difference.
“Overall I feel better,” she says. “I mean, you don't realize even when you don't think you're having symptoms. But once you start going gluten free, you realize, yeah, there were some things there.”
It’s also important to note that Celiac Disease has a strong hereditary connection. Susan was initially tested for it, after her mother was diagnosed. So, Susan is making sure her daughters get tested as well.
If you want to take a look at the variety of symptoms associated with Celiac Disease, click on the link below.
Do you know someone living with Celiac Disease? Feel free to share your stories in the comment section.