HEADLINES Published April22, 2015 By Bernadette Strong

People with Celiac Encouraged to Educate Family Members

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A piece of gluten-free carrot cake, something that can be enjoyed by people with celiac disease.
(Photo : Cassidy, commons.wikimedia.org)

A group that advocates for people with celiac disease is urging them to tell their relatives that they should be tested. Celiac disease runs in families and close relatives may not realize that they are at risk for the condition.

The National Foundation for Celiac Awareness is launching a campaign, "Seriously, Celiac Disease," this week to help people with celiac talk with their first-degree relatives. First-degree relatives are parents, children, and siblings. Celiac disease is genetically based, and these are the relatives who are most likely to share the genes for the condition. Many of these people may have a variety of symptoms of celiac disease, but do not recognize them. The condition may go undiagnosed and be mismanaged unless physicians have been told that there is a family history of celiac.

Research has shown that people who are genetically at-risk are more likely to be screened for celiac if they are told about it. The campaign was developed to help people educate their relatives about the condition and give them the tools to start a conversation about being tested.

"Through our community's experience, we know that most untested family members only want to have this serious conversation once, so it's important to use the right information, in the right setting, using proven methods when talking to them," said Alice Bast, president of the foundation. "By equipping individuals with the right tools to help their relatives understand the importance of formal diagnosis, NFCA hopes to have a major impact on the health and future of many families."

People with celiac disease cannot digest the protein gluten, which is found in wheat, barley, and rye. Gluten triggers an immune response in the body that damages the lining of the small intestine. The only treatment is to avoid all gluten. However, celiac does not cause problems to the same extent in everyone who has it. Some people may have mild symptoms and they do not associate the symptoms with eating bread or other products with gluten in them.

May is Celiac Awareness Month. The foundation says that three million people in the United States have celiac disease, but that 83% are undiagnosed. The National Foundation for Celiac Awareness has a checklist of symptoms of celiac at http://www.celiaccentral.org/disease-symptoms-checklist/.

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