If you have been diagnosed with celiac disease, you’re probably used to the gluten-free diet. In fact, it’s become even easier to deal with the condition as gluten-free food has become more popular over the past five years. People started to realize the health benefits of eating a diet free of gluten, so cakes, cookies, and everything in between are now fair game for gluten-free eaters. Unless you’ve only recently been diagnosed, you’re probably well aware of the tricks and secrets of getting a healthy diet with celiac, so staying healthy during your pregnancy is no different. However, there is a serious risk for pregnancy and birth complications in women who have the condition but don’t know it.

Many people live with celiac and don’t even realize they have it. The symptoms can be minor, and they can usually be passed off as indigestion or even lactose intolerance. Women who become pregnant and don’t realize they have celiac are putting themselves and their baby at risk for complications. These complications include anemia, placental abruption, gestational hypertension, and intrauterine growth restriction. In a recent study, 65% of women with undiagnosed celiac disease had a serious pregnancy complication that risked or compromised the health of their growing baby. Because the body reacts differently to gluten with celiac disease, the gluten interferes with the growth and development of these babies by compromising other bodily processes.

If you’ve never had symptoms that are caused by Celiac disease, you’ve probably never been tested for it. Most people get tested for celiac disease when they’re having severe digestion problems. However, the risk of complications for women who go undiagnosed are severe, and you might want to get screened for the condition before you become pregnant. If you do have celiac disease, you’ll need to remove gluten from your diet and talk to your doctor about staying healthy during your pregnancy. The test for celiac disease is a simple blood test, so it’s better to be safe than sorry.

If you’re pregnant and think you might be at risk for celiac, either based on previous symptoms or a nagging intuition, you should consider getting a test before you give birth. If it’s early enough in your pregnancy, you could restrict yourself from eating gluten for the remainder and lessen your risk for some of the possible complications that could put your baby at risk for problems.

Source: Rachel Pope et al: Celiac Disease During Pregnancy: To Screen or Not to Screen? Archives of Gynecology and Obstetrics Volume 279 Issue 2009

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