July 28, 2008
Disease Spurs Diet Change
By KIM ARCHER
Celiac disease is an autoimmune disorder triggered by the consumption of gluten.
Eric Gentry can feel it almost immediately when he "gets glutened." His stomach starts bloating and gurgling with pain.
"I feel it within five minutes; probably even less," he said.
After a year or more of looking for answers about what was wrong with him, Gentry and his wife, Stacie Gentry, found it online: celiac sprue disease.
It is a lifelong autoimmune disorder triggered by the consumption of gluten, a protein found in wheat, rye and barley.
In celiac patients, gluten damages the small intestine and prevents absorption of nutrients from food.
About 2 million Americans have been diagnosed with celiac disease, according to the National Institutes of Health.
Because it is genetic, the risk is higher for those who have a first-degree relative diagnosed with celiac disease.
Once the Tulsa banker saw the list of symptoms, he knew that that was his problem.
"I said, 'That's it. That's gotta be it,' " Gentry said.
He was scheduled to have his gallbladder removed the next day but canceled the surgery to explore this new possibility.
He was referred to the Mayo Clinic, which employs one of the world's top celiac specialists.
After thorough testing, Gentry was finally diagnosed.
"They said: 'It's clear-cut. You have celiac.' "
Gentry was relieved.
"Yeah, I have to change my lifestyle and diet, but at least I didn't have to have an invasive surgery," he said.
On his way to a diagnosis, Gentry saw several doctors and had three colonoscopies.
He was misdiagnosed with irritable bowel syndrome. So that doctor put him on a high-fiber diet, one of the worst things for someone with celiac disease.
He had lost 40 pounds in three months and had suffered with headaches, mouth sores, tingling in his arms and gastrointestinal difficulties. And he knew that some people thought he was a hypochondriac.
"You think you're going crazy. But I knew something was wrong," Gentry said.
Finally, during the last colonoscopy, the doctor noticed that his villi were smashed down, a classic sign of celiac disease. Villi are the tiny, fingerlike protrusions lining the small intestines that help absorb nutrients into the bloodstream.
Citing the difficulty of a gluten-free diet, the doctor still wanted to remove Gentry's gallbladder. But Gentry said no.
"A gluten-free diet is the only treatment for this. It is extremely hard for at least the first month," Gentry said. "But after three days, I felt like a new person."
Two years later, Gentry's gallbladder is better, his headaches are gone, he has gained healthy weight, and even his allergy- induced asthma is nearly nonexistent.
"You have to be careful what you read on the Internet," he said. "But if it wasn't for us looking at the symptoms on the Internet, I probably would have had my gallbladder out or even worse."
Undiagnosed, the disease can lead to lymphoma or cancer of the intestine.
"If you find out you have celiac disease, don't think it's the end of the world," Gentry said. "Stick to the diet 100 percent. You'll see instant improvement in your health."
Kim Archer 581-8315
Symptoms of celiac disease
Recurring abdominal bloating and pain
Pale, foul-smelling, or fatty stool
Unexplained anemia (a low count of red blood cells causing fatigue)
Weight loss/weight gain
Bone or joint pain
Tingling numbness in the legs (from nerve damage)
Missed menstrual periods (often because of excessive weight loss)
Infertility, recurrent miscarriage
Failure to thrive in infants
Pale sores inside the mouth, called aphthous ulcers
Tooth discoloration or loss of enamel
Itchy skin rash called dermatitis herpetiformis
Not everyone has all of the symptoms. Some people with celiac disease may have no symptoms, but they are still at risk for the complications of celiac disease, including malnutrition. The longer a person goes undiagnosed and untreated, the greater the chance of developing malnutrition and other complications.
Source: National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse
Dining out with celiac disease
Gentry's suggestions for local restaurants with gluten-free menus:
Michael Fusco's Riverside Grill, 9912 Riverside Parkway
P.F. Chang's China Bistro, 1978 E. 21st St.
PeiWei Asian Diner, 3535 S. Peoria Ave.; 5954 S. Yale Ave.; 4609 W. Kenosha St., Broken Arrow
Outback Steakhouse, 4723 S. Yale Ave.; 9006 E. 71st St.; 9710 Riverside Parkway
Celiac Sprue Association, Tulsa Support Group Ronda Falkensten, president, tulsaworld.com/celiac
Next support group meeting: 7 p.m. Aug. 19, St. Francis Hospital Education Resource Building, 6161 S. Yale Ave. (northeast part of St. Francis Hospital; next building past Children's Hospital)
Barbara Sipple (918) 733-4571 For more information about celiac disease, go to tulsaworld.com/celiacorg
Originally published by KIM ARCHER World Staff Writer.
(c) 2008 Tulsa World. Provided by ProQuest Information and Learning. All rights Reserved.