Celiac Center

The Celiac Center at The University of Tennessee Medical Center in Knoxville, Tennessee, offers patients access to diagnosis, treatment and management of celiac disease. The Celiac Center understands the critical needs of those diagnosed with celiac disease and aims to raise awareness and diagnosis rates with this disease that so often goes undetected and untreated. In fact, as much as 97% of people with celiac disease have not been diagnosed.

The Celiac Center provides a state-of-the-art interdisciplinary treatment team including gastroenterologists, nurses and registered dietitians who work together to develop an individualized treatment plan that includes lifestyle counseling and nutrition education on the gluten-free diet. It also provides celiac disease education to increase public awareness among health care professionals and the public, ongoing patient assistance through a community support group and has established a "gluten-free" zone for inpatients as well as outpatients that provides appropriate foods through the Department of Nutrition and Food Services.

What is Celiac Disease?Celiac Disease SymptomsHow can I get Tested for Celiac Disease?Nutrition ConsiderationsNutrition CounselingEventsResources

What is Celiac Disease?

Celiac disease is an inherited autoimmune disorder that affects the digestive process of the small intestine. This disorder is triggered by the ingestion of gluten, a major protein in wheat or of related proteins in other grains. Gluten is found in the sub-proteins of wheat, rye and barley and their derivatives. About 1% of the global population has celiac disease, and most do not know it. At least 3 million people in the United States are afflicted with this disease.

When a person with celiac disease eats or drinks anything containing gluten, a protein found in wheat, barley, rye, or sometimes oats (including medications), the immune system responds by damaging the lining of the intestinal tract. This damage affects the body's ability to absorb nutrients.

People with celiac disease that goes undiagnosed are at higher risk of developing such diseases as diabetes, infertility, osteoporosis and anemia.

Celiac Disease Symptoms

Symptoms of celiac disease vary from person to person, which often is why someone may go undiagnosed. Celiac disease symptoms may include the following.

  • Abdominal pain
  • Abdominal distention, bloating, gas, indigestion
  • Constipation
  • Decreased appetite
  • Diarrhea, chronic or occasional
  • Lactose intolerance
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Stools that float, are foul smelling, bloody or “fatty”
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Other non-intestinal symptoms may include anemia, bone and joint pain, bruising easily, dental enamel defects and discoloration, hair loss
    and more...

How can I get Tested for Celiac Disease?

If you suffer from one or more of the symptoms of celiac disease, you should ask your health care provider to order blood tests for the initial screening of celiac. The following blood test is recommended : IgA tissue transglutaminase antibody (tTG).

If the blood test suggests celiac disease, please contact our Healthcare Coordinators at 865.305.6970 for a referral to a gastroenterologist.

If blood tests are negative, but you are still having gastrointestinal symptoms please contact our Healthcare Coordinators to schedule an appointment with a registered dietitian to assist you in developing an individualized nutrition care plan.

Nutrition Considerations

The only treatment for celiac disease is a gluten-free diet. Once you have been diagnosed with celiac disease, it is very important that you talk to a registered dietitian who specializes in celiac disease and gluten-free diet to discuss your nutritional considerations for celiac disease. A gluten-free diet, when followed carefully, helps prevent symptoms of the disease. Gluten may be found in many foods, especially processed foods and baked goods. Breads, cakes and desserts that use thickeners, alcoholic beverages (except wine), cereals and pastas may all contain gluten.

There also is a risk of cross-contamination. Items that are naturally gluten-free may become contaminated if they are made on the same production line as or moved together in the same setting with foods containing gluten.

Restaurant eating and social gatherings pose another, but manageable, challenge. It is important to call ahead and take time to plan. It also is very important to read labels to check ingredients.

Despite its challenges, maintaining a healthy, balanced diet is possible with education and planning.

If you are interested in meeting with a registered dietitian regarding a gluten-free diet, the Clinical Nutrition Services Department at UT Medical Center offers individualized, professional nutritional counseling. This service emphasizes making healthy nutrition a part of your lifestyle. Because everyone is different, it is beneficial to work with a registered dietitian who will create a customized program just for you, especially if you have been diagnosed with Celiac Disease. If you are interested in scheduling an appointment for the Wellness Nutrition Counseling program call the Healthcare Coordination office at 865.305.6970. (This program does not submit insurance claims.)