ALBANY, N.Y. (NEWS10) — Like other autoimmune diseases, celiac disease affects more women than men. Two-thirds of those currently diagnosed are female. For them, a gluten-free diet isn’t just a fad, but a necessity.

Those with celiac disease aren’t able to digest gluten, a protein found in wheat, rye, and barley. Eating it triggers an immune response in the small intestine. Over time, this reaction damages the small intestine’s lining.

“Which leads to malabsorption and as a result of malabsorption, you get abdominal pain, bloating, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, constipation,” said Dr. Asra Batool, a gastroenterologist at Albany Medical Center. Dr. Batool says women tend to see worse bloating and IBS symptoms than men, but many are still unaware that they have the disease.

“We are seeing more and more celiac patients now because there’s more awareness I think, but it has always existed and the diagnosis can be done later in their life although they’ve been suffering for a long time,” she said.

Diagnosis is done through celiac blood tests and endoscopy. There is no cure, but a strict gluten-free diet can manage the symptoms. “Even one-eighth of a teaspoon of any substance containing gluten can cause you to have symptoms,” said Dr. Batool. “Avoid any cross-contamination read the labels carefully.”

Celiac can run in families and can strike at any time. “This can be sometimes triggered by any viral infections, pregnancies, because it’s an autoimmune disease,” Batool said. “Anything that alters your immunity and turns off your autoimmune function can lead to celiac disease at any age.”

Untreated celiac disease can lead to other autoimmune diseases due to nutritional deficiencies. These include type 1 diabetes, multiple sclerosis, anemia, osteoporosis. Dr. Batool says having celiac disease in this era is much easier than it used to be, with so many gluten-free options. But she still suggests those with celiac speak with a registered dietician for help following a safe and nutritious diet.