If a child complains of recurrent pain in abdomen, diarrhoea, chronic anaemia and growth retardation, then there are chances that the child is suffering from gluten sensitivity, a disease, according to doctors, common in north India.
Gluten is a protein composite found in wheat, rye and barley. Gluten sensitivity is also popularly known as wheat allergy or celiac disease. It is common in northern India, as wheat is one of the main crops grown here.
In this, a person’s body becomes intolerant to the gluten. Patients normally suffer damage to the lining epithelium of the small intestines, resulting in malabsorption of nutrients.
“It is a kind of gastrointestinal allergy (GI), which is because of the patient’s sensitivity to gluten. On an average, a doctor treats seven to eight wheat allergic patients. The number has increased in the last few years,” said Dr Meenu Singh of paediatrics department, PGIMER.
She added, “Usually, a child starts showing the symptoms of Gluten sensitivity from the day he/she is given gluten-based food like wheat, barley and rye. The symptoms of the disease vary from person to person, which is one of the reasons of it being difficult to diagnose”.
“A lot of doctors are also unaware of this problem. Parents usually come to us when their child is 6-10 years old. By this time, a lot of damage has already been done,” the doctor added.
The main symptoms are diarrhoea, pain in abdomen, anaemia, short stature, constipation and retarded growth.
Dr Arpinder Singh, incharge of Paediatrics department, Max hospital, said, “In severe cases, the symptoms can be rashes, difficulty in breathing, swollen mouth and throat, chronic fatigue, difficulty in concentrating and failure to thrive”.
He added, “Gluten insensitivity can be diagnosed by blood tests, endoscopy and biopsy. If diagnosed, the only treatment is a gluten-free diet. People are advised to avoid wheat, rye and barley products, especially biscuits and cakes. Positive results are seen as soon as people stop taking gluten”.