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Celiac Disease in Children: Care Instructions


Celiac disease (or celiac sprue) is a problem with digesting gluten, which is a type of protein found in wheat, rye, and other grains. This problem starts when the body's immune system attacks the small intestine when gluten is eaten. The immune system is supposed to fight off viruses and other invaders, but sometimes it turns on the person's own body (autoimmune disease). Celiac disease seems to run in families.

Celiac disease causes damage to the small intestine. This makes it hard for the body to absorb vitamins and other nutrients. A child with celiac disease may not grow and gain weight as expected. You cannot prevent celiac disease. But you can stop and reverse the damage to the small intestine by keeping your child on a strict gluten-free diet.

Follow-up care is a key part of your child's treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor or nurse advice line (811 in most provinces and territories) if your child is having problems. It's also a good idea to know your child's test results and keep a list of the medicines your child takes.

How can you care for your child at home?

  • Feed your child a gluten-free diet to prevent symptoms and damage to the small intestine. Even a small amount of gluten may cause damage.
    • Avoid all foods that contain wheat, rye, and barley. Foods that are often made with these grains include bread, bagels, pasta, pizza, malted breakfast cereals, and crackers.
    • Avoid oats, at least at first. Oats may cause symptoms in some people. It may be contaminated with wheat, barley, or rye from processing. But many people who have celiac disease can eat moderate amounts of oats without having symptoms. Health professionals vary in their long-term recommendations regarding eating foods with oats. But most agree it is safe to eat oats labelled as gluten-free.
  • Your child may need to avoid milk and milk products for a while. Once your child stops eating any gluten, the intestine will begin to heal. Then it should be okay to drink milk and eat milk products.
  • Read food labels carefully and look for hidden gluten, such as gluten in medicine and some food additives. If a label says "modified food starch," the product may contain gluten.
  • Plan your child's diet around:
    • Eggs.
    • Dairy products, if your child can eat them. Cheese, yogurt, and other dairy products can be an important part of the diet.
    • Flours and foods made with amaranth, arrowroot, beans, buckwheat, corn, cornmeal, flax, millet, potatoes, gluten-free oat bran, quinoa, rice, sorghum, soybeans, tapioca, or teff.
    • Fresh, frozen, and canned meats, fruits, and vegetables. Watch for added gluten.
  • Talk to your doctor or contact your local hospital or dietitian for information about support groups in your area. You may find a support group helpful for discovering ways to help you deal with celiac disease. Celiac disease support groups often share recipes and good food sources.
  • Look for gluten-free foods. Many food stores, especially health food stores, offer specially marked gluten-free food.

When should you call for help?

Watch closely for changes in your child's health, and be sure to contact your doctor or nurse advice line if:

  • Your child's bloating, gas, and diarrhea get worse.
  • Your child has bloating, gas, and diarrhea after not having them for a while.

Where can you learn more?

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Care instructions adapted under license by your healthcare professional. If you have questions about a medical condition or this instruction, always ask your healthcare professional. Healthwise, Incorporated disclaims any warranty or liability for your use of this information.