Celiac Disease

"The longer it takes to diagnose this disease and the longer it takes to establish treatment, the greater the likelihood of malnutrition or other complications".


Celiac disease is a digestive disease that damages the small intestine and alters the absorption of vitamins, minerals and other nutrients contained in food.

Patients with celiac disease do not tolerate a protein called gluten, which is found in cereals (wheat, oats, barley, rye). When they take foods that contain gluten, their immune system responds and damage occurs to the mucous membrane of the small intestine.

The alteration of food absorption leads to malnutrition, even if adequate intake is maintained.

There is a genetic component, so it is more frequent in certain families.

What are the symptoms of celiac disease?

There is a great variability in the symptoms and there are not always properly digestive symptoms. The symptoms presented by patients with celiac disease depend on the poor absorption of the nutrients contained in the diet.

They can refer any of the following symptoms (combined or isolated):

  • Chronic diarrhea.
  • Loss of weight.
  • Abundant, greasy stools.
  • Unexplained anemia.
  • Recurrent abdominal pain.
  • Gases.
  • Bone and joint pain.
  • Muscle cramps.
  • Fatigue.
  • Delayed growth.

Some people with celiac disease do not report any symptoms, because the undamaged part of their intestine is able to absorb enough nutrients to prevent symptoms. 

<p>Imagen de la infografía realizada por los especialistas de la Clínica Universidad de Navarra sobre la enfermedad celiaca.</p>

Learn how celiac disease is diagnosed and treated (available in spanish)

Do you have any of these symptoms?

You may have celiac disease

What are the causes of coeliac disease?

The cause of celiac intolerance is unknown, but it is probably due to

  • Genetic susceptibility to intolerance.
  • Environmental agents, probably viral infections or other infection.
  • Association with other autoimmune diseases that are also produced by the combination of genetic susceptibility and infections.

What are the complications of celiac disease?

Most of the complications of coeliac disease are related to nutritional deficits secondary to altered food absorption: osteoporosis, low height or growth retardation, congenital malformations in children of untreated coeliac mothers during pregnancy, dizziness and convulsions, etc.

Celiac disease has also been linked to some intestinal cancers (lymphoma, adenocarcinoma).

How is celiac disease diagnosed?

The diagnosis of celiac disease can be difficult, because the symptoms produced by this disease also appear in many other diseases.

Patients with celiac disease have elevated levels of antibodies against gluten (anti-gliadin, anti-endomysium, anti-reticulin and anti-transglutaminase antibodies). If the levels of these antibodies in the blood are elevated, the way to confirm the disease is to study a biopsy of the mucous membrane of the small intestine.

The confirmation of the diagnosis today is based on concurrence of clinical suspicion, serology and intestinal biopsy compatible with celiac disease.

How is celiac disease treated?

The only treatment for coeliac disease is to avoid all foods that contain gluten, even in minimal amounts. These foods should be avoided for life.

There are many foods that contain gluten and this protein is also present in many additives of manufactured products.

Once the gluten-free diet is in place, recovery may not be immediate and duodenal biopsies may take up to 2 years to become completely normal.

At the beginning of the treatment, in addition to the gluten-free diet, dietary supplements of the vitamins or minerals in which deficiencies are detected are usually associated to favor a faster recovery.

A small percentage of patients with celiac disease do not improve as expected with the gluten-free diet and require other associated pharmacological treatments. These patients are the most likely to develop complications of the disease.

Where do we treat it?


The Department of Digestive
of the Clínica Universidad de Navarra

The Digestive Department of the Clinica Universidad de Navarra is composed of a multidisciplinary team of specialists who are experts in the diagnosis and treatment of diseases of the digestive tract.

Our objective is that each diagnosis be carefully established and the treatment plan adjusted to each patient.

Imagen de la fachada de consultas de la sede en Pamplona de la Clínica Universidad de Navarra

Why at the Clinica?

  • Medical specialists who are national references.
  • Specialized nursing team.
  • Endoscopy Unit and High Risk Digestive Tumor Prevention and Consultation Unit to offer the best care to our patients.

Our team of professionals