Celiac Disease Symptoms in Teenagers

Celiac disease is a digestive disorder in which the body reacts negatively to gluten, a protein found in wheat, barley and rye. According to the University of Chicago Celiac Disease Center (UCCDC), symptoms of celiac may appear at infancy, during childhood or into adulthood. If your teenage child exhibits symptoms of celiac disease, seek proper testing from your doctor or a digestive specialist.

Delayed Puberty

Malabsorption of nutrients during infancy and childhood can lead to development delays, such as delayed puberty in adolescents and teens with celiac disease. Children mature sexually at various rates and delayed puberty can occur due to other factors, such as heredity (other family members also experienced delayed puberty) or problems with the pituitary gland. However, if delayed puberty occurs along with additional symptoms, such as digestive problems, or if celiac disease runs in your family, celiac disease may be the culprit. The UCCDC suggests that all family members of an individual with celiac disease seek testing for the disorder, as even those who do not experience symptoms, yet have the disease, are at risk for complications.

Chronic Constipation and Diarrhea

Chronic constipation and diarrhea refers to bouts of constipation (few or difficult bowel movements) lasting several days or more, followed by intermittent bouts of persistent diarrhea (loose, frequent stools). According to the UCCDC, chronic constipation and diarrhea are classic symptoms of celiac disease and occur more commonly in children than adults with the disease. Teens who struggle with constipation and diarrhea may “grow out of” the symptoms in adulthood, but if these symptoms reflect celiac disease, their risk for additional symptoms and potentially serious complications persist. If your teenage child faces frequent bouts of constipation and diarrhea, seek guidance from your doctor. Keep in mind that for most tests for celiac disease, gluten must be in a person’s body. For this reason, do not eliminate gluten from your child’s diet prior to doctor’s approval.

Abdominal Pain and Bloating

Abdominal pain and bloating (water retention) may occur in teenagers with celiac disease. According to the Mayo Clinic, abdominal pain and bloating reflect common, general symptoms of the disease which may occur at any age. Celiac disease symptoms are similar to symptoms of other digestive disorders, such as Crohn’s disease, irritable bowel syndrome and food allergies or intolerances. For this reason, proper testing is key. Celiac disease is manageable, generally through complete avoidance of gluten. Though it may seem daunting, a gluten-free diet can include a variety of healthy, satisfying foods, minus the risk of bothersome side effects and complications triggered by gluten.

About this Author

August J. McLaughlin is a certified nutritionist and health writer with more than nine years of professional experience. Her work has been featured in various magazines such as “Healthy Aging,” “CitySmart,” “IAmThatGirl” and “ULM.” She holds specializations in eating disorders, healthy weight management and sports nutrition. She is currently completing her second cookbook and Weight Limit – a series of body image/nutrition-related PSAs.