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People With Celiac Disease Can See Doctor Upon Doctor Before Diagnosis

DENVER (CBS4) - More and more children are coming down with a serious disease, and for patients with celiac disease, going gluten-free isn't a fad -- it's a necessity.

Doctors say one in every 100 people has celiac disease, which means they can't eat anything with gluten. The increase of celiac patients may be why more stores are filling the shelves with products that are gluten-free.

Mia Brierly, 15, was sick for five months before she finally found out what was causing it.

"I was in extreme abdominal pain and I was throwing up every morning," Mia said. "I was very, very ill and we had absolutely no idea what was wrong."

"This kind of thing has pretty much got to be any parent's nightmare," Mia's mother Amy Brierly said. "I mean suddenly your child is so ill that they can't even function."

After months of testing, doctors discovered Mia had a chronic condition called celiac disease, where even the tiniest bit of gluten -- a protein found in wheat, barley, and rye -- causes severe injury to the intestines.

"Even tiny amounts that we call cross-contact that gets into their food can cause severe immune reactions with vomiting, diarrhea," said Dr. Ed Liu, Colorado Center for Celiac Disease Director.

They can be sick for days while others may not have any symptoms at all.

Liu says untreated celiac disease can stunt children's growth, lead to osteoporosis and even infertility. And diagnosing it can be difficult.

"It's a common story for individuals who have a lot of symptoms to be sent around from doctor to doctor until they end up getting diagnosed with celiac disease," Liu said.

(credit: CBS)

Now that Mia has the diagnosis she's had to change the way she eats and lives. And she's the first to admit that living gluten-free isn't easy.

"I really miss donuts," she said.

Celiac disease can be diagnosed with a simple blood test at the doctor's office.

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