DEAR DR. DONOHUE: I was diagnosed with celiac disease because of frequent diarrhea and weight loss. I requested that I have the celiac blood test. It was positive. How does a person know if one has celiac disease? I thought at first that I had a thyroid problem. — T.F.
ANSWER: Celiac disease is an immune disease in which the immune system attacks the digestive tract when the tract is exposed to gluten, a protein found in wheat, barley and rye. Two prominent symptoms are diarrhea and weight loss. However, many celiac patients have symptoms that are often described for other illnesses. Those with irritable bowel syndrome are sometimes found to really have celiac disease. Premature osteoporosis is another illness linked to celiac disease; celiac patients have trouble absorbing enough calcium. They also have trouble absorbing iron, so iron-deficiency anemia is another illness that can be linked to this disease.
Celiac disease was once considered rare. It’s anything but. Now, with attention drawn to it, doctors are looking for it and diagnosing it much more frequently.
Screening tests that detect antibodies in the celiac patient’s blood make the diagnosis much easier. Proof of the diagnosis often rests on a biopsy of the small intestine that shows changes typical of celiac disease. A response to a gluten-free diet is another powerful piece of information in establishing the cause of intestinal-tract symptoms.
Treatment is a gluten-free diet. Such a diet is not as easy as it sounds. Instructions from a dietitian help newly diagnosed celiac patients navigate the difficult waters of gluten avoidance.
Every celiac patient should contact the Celiac Disease Foundation, a dependable friend that guides patients through the difficult early days of treatment and provides lifelong information on this illness The foundation’s phone number is 818-990-2354, and its website is www.celiac.org.
DEAR DR. DONOHUE: What is the main function of the thyroid gland? Can it cause memory loss? — G.R.
ANSWER: The thyroid gland, located in the neck, produces thyroid hormone that keeps the body’s metabolic rate at the right speed. Metabolism involves the processing of foods into energy, the incorporation of proteins into muscles and the storage of carbohydrates as fuel. The gland keeps the heart beating at an optimum rate. It contributes to the regulation of body temperature. Without it, we would slow down to a snail’s pace and be perpetually fatigued.
Having too little thyroid hormone brings on mental sluggishness and affects memory.
The booklet on thyroid diseases explains both an overactive and underactive gland. Readers can obtain a copy by writing: Dr. Donohue — No. 401, Box 536475, Orlando, FL 32853-6475. Enclose a check or money order for $4.75 U.S./$6 Can. with the recipient’s printed name and address. Please allow four weeks for delivery.
DEAR DR. DONOHUE: You commented on 50 being a young age to have osteoporosis. My son, an MD, had early-onset osteoporosis. They said his bones were those of a 90-year-old. It perplexed him. He found it could be due to an overactive parathyroid gland. On talking to his paternal aunt, I found out that she and her father had parathyroid tumors. I told my son, and he promptly had surgery to remove the overproducing gland. Perhaps your readers should consider this when they’re given a diagnosis of osteoporosis. — J.F.
ANSWER: When osteoporosis develops at a younger-than-anticipated age in a woman or a man, all the reasons for its occurrence have to be considered. One of those reasons is an overactive parathyroid gland. The four small parathyroid glands keep blood calcium level within a narrow range. If they start producing too much of their hormone, it steals calcium from bones to keep the calcium blood level up. The result is osteoporosis.
I hope your son is doing fine now.
Dr. Donohue regrets that he is unable to answer individual letters, but he will incorporate them in his column whenever possible. Readers may write him or request an order form of available health newsletters at P.O. Box 536475, Orlando, FL 32853-6475. Readers may also order health newsletters from www.rbmamall.com.