People may have heard about Celiac Disease, but how much do we really know about it? On National Celiac Disease Awareness Day, let's learn more about the condition that affects millions of Americans.

National Celiac Disease Awareness Day is observed every Sept. 13 as it marks the birthday of Dr. Samuel Gee, who in 1888 described celiac disease as "a kind of chronic indigestion which is met within persons of all ages."

But despite having been described as far back as the 1800s, celiac disease remains a condition that not many people understand.

Basically, celiac disease is a digestive and autoimmune disorder that's triggered by consuming food with gluten and damages the intestines, the National Institutes of Health's (NIH) National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK) explained. In other words, exposure to gluten causes a person's own immune system to attack the small intestine.

Celiac Disease is not the same as gluten sensitivity as it doesn't tend to damage the small intestines. And not only can celiac disease cause digestive problems, but a person with the condition may also be prevented from getting the nutrients that they need.

On this day, let's learn a bit more about this often-misunderstood condition. (Courtesy: NIDDK, Rush University Medical Center, Beyond Celiac and Celiac Disease Foundation)

  • It's estimated that about 1% of people worldwide have the disease. The statistics are similar in the U.S., where one in 133 Americans are believed to have celiac disease, but new evidence suggests a higher prevalence.
  • There is also evidence that the global incidence of celiac disease is "significantly increasing."
  • Celiac disease can affect people of all ages and races, and may impact every organ in the body. In the U.S., however, it is more common in white Americans than other groups and in females than males.
  • It is a chronic autoimmune disease and people can't just "grow out of it."
  • Those who have family members with celiac disease are more likely to have it.
  • It is also more common in people with certain chromosomal conditions such as Down Syndrome and Williams syndrome.
  • Many people with celiac disease are still undiagnosed or misdiagnosed with another condition. In the U.S., the number may be as high as 83%. This means that many people may be suffering from it without knowing it.
  • Getting diagnosed with celiac disease can sometimes be complicated, as it can be mistaken for other conditions. On average, there is said to be a 6 to 10 year wait time for a person to be accurately diagnosed.
  • With a late diagnosis, celiac disease can lead to more serious conditions such as osteoporosis, type 1 diabetes, intestine cancer and thyroid diseases such as Addison's disease.
  • Celiac disease symptoms may vary widely, from diarrhea, constipation, bloating and bowel problems after eating food that contains wheat, to unexplained anemia or fatigue and unexplained infertility. It is estimated that 6% of women struggling with fertility could be because of celiac disease.
  • There is so far no cure for celiac disease. The only way to manage it is to have a 100% gluten-free diet.
Gluten Free Bread
Representation of no-gluten/gluten-free bread. Pixabay