What Is Silent Celiac Disease?

Silent celiac disease is a manifestation of this disease in which there are no symptoms. Let's see why it's so dangerous and how it can be treated.
What Is Silent Celiac Disease?

Written by Josberth Johan Benitez Colmenares, 26 June, 2021

Last update: 26 June, 2021

Silent celiac disease, also known as asymptomatic celiac disease, is one of the many manifestations of this autoimmune disorder. Although most people celiac disease with chronic gastrointestinal symptoms, the peculiarity of this variant is that the patient doesn’t develop any symptoms.

This makes it an even more dangerous variant of the disease. As the Gluten-Free Society reminds us, silent celiac disease is a potential cause of premature death. Today we’re going to see why, how doctors diagnose it, and the importance of a gluten-free diet to control it.

Characteristics of silent celiac disease

Silent celiac disease is difficult to detect
The most characteristic aspect of silent celiac disease is that the usual gastrointestinal clinical manifestations often go unnoticed or don’t even develop.

In typical celiac disease, patients manifest gastrointestinal symptoms after ingesting gluten. These, in general, are abdominal pain, diarrhea, constipation, and flatulence. Sometimes the disorder can also cause problems in other parts of the body, and cause fatigue, bone pain, depression, or joint pain.

When this happens, the patient is usually able to link the intake of certain foods with the appearance of symptoms. This will motivate them to consult a specialist who can perform tests that may confirm the presence of celiac disease.

However, none of this happens with asymptomatic celiac disease.- There’s no obvious sign that something is wrong when you eat products with gluten.

Sometimes very vague symptoms can develop, such as fatigue or blurred vision. However, it’s unlikely that people will suspect what’s behind these symptoms.

Despite the absence of symptoms of silent celiac disease, the collateral damage remains the same. There may be atrophy in the villi in the intestine and an increased chance of suffering from certain diseases.

For example, studies and research indicate that bone complications are frequent in patients with this manifestation. Evidence indicates that Basedow’s disease and diabetes can also arise as a result of this disease, with a prevalence of 25 percent and 20 percent, respectively.

Anemia or other autoimmune disorders such as psoriasis or rheumatoid arthritis can also occur. It can take years or even decades for complications to occur. The worrying thing is that they always do appear, and therein lies the danger.

How is silent celiac disease diagnosed?

The absence of symptoms in silent celiac disease makes it very difficult to obtain an early detection of the disorder. As with its symptomatic manifestation, specific serological and DNA tests are needed for its diagnosis. These, in turn, require confirmation by means of an endoscopy and its respective biopsy.

Due to this, there are certain patterns that should alert a specialist that the patient is suffering from this disorder. For example, experts know that this condition carries a high genetic predisposition. If one member of the family has it, then, as a protocol, it should be ruled out in the others. This applies even if there’s a complete absence of symptoms.

The relevant tests should also be performed when the person is suffering from another autoimmune disorder. Patients suffering from anemia should be screened for silent celiac disease, as well as those with Down syndrome or different forms of malnutrition.

There’s some evidence that this variant is more common in adults than in children. The latter usually develop chronic symptoms, and so it’s detected at an early age. Because of this, there’s no established diagnostic protocol.

Relevant tests will only be performed when the person is part of a risk group, or when clear signs are present.

A gluten-free diet in silent celiac disease

Silent celiac disease is treatable
Although a gluten-free diet is a solution for this disease, sometimes dietary restrictions aren’t followed.

When the respective diagnosis of the disease has been made, patients should start the same treatment as for symptomatic celiac disease, which is to eliminate gluten from the diet. Evidence indicates that this reduces the chances of developing other conditions and encourages the recovery of the villi in the intestine.

This can pose a problem for patients. Because they don’t experience any symptoms, they may feel that adhering to the diet is unnecessary.

For this reason, it’s common for many people to allow themselves to eat gluten, depending on the occasion – going out to restaurants, meetings with friends, among others.

Studies show that silent celiac disease patients have a negative perception of their well-being after implementing a gluten-free diet. They feel that permanently eliminating certain food from their diets will cause their quality of life to deteriorate a bit, especially when they don’t feel that they’re doing any real damage to their body.

However, the specialist has a duty to inform the patient about the importance of total adherence. If gluten is included in their diets, even occasionally, the wear and tear on the villi will return, along with a higher prevalence of complications. Fortunately, these days it’s possible to access hundreds of gluten-free alternatives, such as pasta, flour, and bread.

With the help of a nutritionist and a little ingenuity, the process shouldn’t lead to a decrease in the quality of life. Everything is a matter of adapting, listening to professionals, and having the support of family and friends.

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