Objective: To present the case of a collegiate tennis player with celiac disease symptoms.
Background: Celiac disease is a common intestinal disorder that is often confused with other conditions. It causes severe intestinal damage manifested by several uncomfortable signs and symptoms. Failure by the sports medicine staff to recognize symptoms consistent with celiac disease and treat them appropriately can have deleterious consequences for the athlete.
Differential Diagnosis: Irritable bowel syndrome, Crohn disease, Addison disease, lupus erythematosus, juvenile rheumatoid arthritis, lactose intolerance, herpes zoster, psychogenic disorder (depression), fibromyalgia, complex regional pain syndrome, hyperthyroidism, anemia, type I diabetes.
Treatment: The athlete underwent a series of blood and allergen tests to confirm or refute a diagnosis of celiac disease. When celiac disease was suspected, dietary modifications were made to eliminate all wheat-based and gluten-based products from the athlete's diet.
Uniqueness: The athlete was able to fully compete in a competitive National Collegiate Athletic Association Division I tennis program while experiencing the debilitating effects associated with celiac disease. The immediacy of symptom onset was notable because the athlete had no history of similar complaints.
Conclusions: Celiac disease is a potentially life-threatening condition that affects more people than reported. A properly educated sports medicine staff can help to identify symptoms consistent with celiac disease early, so damage to the intestine is minimized. Prompt recognition and appropriate management allow the athlete to adjust the diet accordingly, compete at a high-caliber level, and enjoy a healthier quality of life.