Can You Outgrow Celiac Disease?

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Can you outgrow celiac disease (an intolerance to gluten)? Unfortunately, no, you can't. Once you've been diagnosed (and assuming the diagnosis is correct), you will have the condition for life.

A long time ago, doctors thought that only children had celiac disease and that children could outgrow it. However, now scientists know that celiac disease affects adults, too, that it does not go away, and that people who have it need to follow a gluten-free diet for life to fend off symptoms.

Why Celiac Disease Is Different From Allergies

It's not uncommon for children to outgrow their allergies as they age. So it's understandable why you might think that celiac disease works in a similar way. 

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 atrophy") and to nutritional deficiencies.

Doctors believe that 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.

Getting an Accurate Diagnosis

The fact that celiac disease is a lifelong condition that requires serious diet restrictions to control 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. 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 out 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 something called 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 that some people believe that it's possible to outgrow celiac disease: In many cases, once a child (or even an adult) has been gluten-free for a while, his or her celiac disease symptoms will disappear, and they might not return—even if the person 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. 

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 can't outgrow celiac disease, and if you've been officially diagnosed by a doctor, then you need to stay on a gluten-free diet for life, even if you don't have symptoms.

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