The precise cause of celiac disease isn't known.

When the body's immune system overreacts to gluten in food, the immune reaction damages the tiny, hair-like projections (villi) that line the small intestine. Villi absorb vitamins, minerals and other nutrients from the food you eat. Normally, villi resemble the deep pile of a plush carpet, on a microscopic scale. The damage resulting from celiac disease makes the inner surface of the small intestine appear more like a tile floor. As a result your body is unable to absorb nutrients necessary for health and growth.

A study done by Mayo Clinic and the National Institutes of Health estimates that about 1 in 141 people in the U.S. have celiac disease, although the disease often goes undiagnosed. Celiac disease is most common in Caucasians.

Some gene changes (mutations) appear to increase the risk of developing the disease. But having those gene mutations doesn't mean you'll get celiac disease — meaning other factors must be involved.

Sometimes celiac disease is triggered — or becomes active for the first time — after surgery, pregnancy, childbirth, viral infection or severe emotional stress.

May. 22, 2013