Can You Outgrow Celiac Disease?

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Question: Can you outgrow celiac disease?

Answer: Unfortunately, no, you can't outgrow celiac disease — once you've been diagnosed (and assuming the diagnosis is correct, which I'll get to in a minute), you have the condition for life.

A long time ago, people thought that only children had celiac disease, and that children could outgrow it. Now we know that celiac disease affects adults too, that it does not go away, and that people who have it need to follow the gluten-free diet for life.

It's understandable that you might hope a young person, diagnosed at an early age with celiac disease, might ultimately lose the diagnosis. After all, it's not uncommon for children to "outgrow" their allergies as they age.

But celiac disease doesn't follow that same pattern. First off, it's not a true "allergy" — it's what's called an autoimmune condition. When you have celiac disease, your body's immune system mistakenly attacks the cells that line your small intestine, leading to damage (known as "villous atropy") and to the nutritional deficiencies common in the condition.

Doctors believe once this process starts, it's impossible to stop. That's why celiac disease is considered a lifelong condition, not something you can ever outgrow.

Learn more:

Caution in Diagnosis

The fact that celiac disease is a lifelong condition requiring serious diet restrictions is one reason why doctors are so careful to diagnose it correctly.

If they get it wrong, the child in question could be following a gluten-free diet for no reason.

In children, the process of testing for the condition starts with blood tests for celiac disease. But to definitively diagnose celiac disease, most doctors will also want to perform an endoscopy, in which they will thread a tube down the child's throat and cut tiny samples of the small intestine for examination.

If those samples show the intestinal damage that indicates celiac disease, the child will be diagnosed with celiac disease. If the samples don't show any damage, then the child may have latent celiac disease, which generally doesn't require a gluten-free diet (but likely will require future monitoring).

How You Can Get Fooled

There's another reason some people believe it's possible to outgrow celiac disease: In many cases, once a child (or even an adult) has been gluten-free for a while, their celiac disease symptoms will disappear, and they might not return even if the person in question deliberately eats gluten-filled foods.

Still, that's no reason to cheat on the diet, since you can be doing damage even if you don't get sick from gluten. Learn more:

In addition, if a person with celiac disease is tested for the condition after not eating gluten for a while, those tests will come back negative, even if they do have the condition. That's because the tests are looking for the body's reaction to gluten, and if you're not eating gluten, you won't be reacting.

So no, you don't outgrow celiac disease, and if you've been officially diagnosed, you need to stay gluten-free, even if you don't have symptoms.

(Edited by Jane Anderson)

Sources:

University of Maryland Center for Celiac Research

Lab Tests Online

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