Caring for a child with celiac disease

Q: Gluten has been in the news a lot lately. What is it and should my child avoid it?

Meet Dr. Guandalini


Stefano Guandalini, MD

Professor of Pediatrics

Section Chief, Pediatric Gastroenterology, Hepatology, and Nutrition

Founder and Medical Director, University of Chicago Celiac Disease Center

Celiac care at the University of Chicago Medicine Comer Children’s Hospital

Our internationally recognized Celiac Disease Center provides expert clinical care as well as innovative programs for kids of all ages. Your child’s team includes:

  • Physicians and nurses specializing in celiac care
  • Physicians in related specialties, such as dermatology and/or neurology
  • Registered dietitians
  • Social workers Center

Dr. Guandalini: Gluten is a protein found in wheat, rye and barley. The only condition for which a strict gluten-free diet has been found effective is celiac disease.

Q: What is celiac disease?

Dr. Guandalini: Celiac disease is an autoimmune condition that causes damage to the lining of the small intestine, resulting in malabsorption of nutrients. It occurs when a child, who is genetically predisposed to the condition, eats gluten.

Q: What are the symptoms?

Dr. Guandalini: Gastrointestinal symptoms include diarrhea, abdominal pain and bloating, failure to thrive and/or weight loss in children. Infants may experience vomiting. Other symptoms – such as fatigue, headache, anemia, anxiety and/or depression – are also common.

Q: How is celiac disease diagnosed?

Dr. Guandalini: The first step to diagnosis is recognizing the symptoms. Up to 85 percent of the estimated 1 million kids affected in the United States go undiagnosed because medical professionals don’t suspect celiac disease.

Q: What happens next?

Dr. Guandalini: Our physicians perform a simple, highly effective blood test. If the blood work is positive for celiac disease, we use an endoscopy with biopsies to document changes to the intestine. It’s important that your child continues to eat gluten until testing is complete so that any adverse reaction can be accurately detected.

Q: How is celiac disease treated?

Dr. Guandalini: Currently, the only treatment is to avoid gluten completely. Although there is no cure for the disease, up to 95 percent of children who follow this strict diet will have no symptoms or signs of intestinal inflammation. Healing often begins within weeks of eliminating gluten.

Q: What can I do to ensure my child receives the proper nutrients?

Dr. Guandalini: Rely on naturally gluten-free foods, such as meats, poultry, dairy, eggs, fish, all fruits and vegetables, corn, rice, quinoa and potatoes.

Q: How can the Celiac Disease Center help my child?

Dr. Guandalini: In addition to our multidisciplinary clinical care, we offer comprehensive services and educational resources. Our free e-book includes tips for implementing a gluten-free diet as well as recipes and advice for dining out. We also provide annual screenings for children and adults in high-risk populations and/or uninsured patients with suspected celiac disease.

Q: How has the University of Chicago contributed to celiac research?

Dr. Guandalini: As a result of our groundbreaking research, the global conversation about celiac disease now focuses on finding a cure.

Q: What studies are underway?

Dr. Guandalini: We are investigating factors, such as uncomfortable social situations, that may prevent teenagers with celiac disease from complying with a gluten-free diet. Our goal is to improve patients’ quality of life as we work in our basic science labs toward a cure.

To schedule an appointment, please call UCM Connect at 1-888-824-0200.To learn more, visit or

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