Celiac disease can have longterm health effects

Published 8:27 am Monday, June 5, 2017

Celiac disease is a serious autoimmune disorder that can occur in genetically predisposed people where the ingestion of gluten leads to damage in the small intestine.

It is estimated to affect 1 in 100 people worldwide, and 2.5 million Americans are undiagnosed and at risk for longterm health complications.

When people with celiac disease eat gluten (a protein found in wheat, rye and barley), their body mounts an immune response that attacks the small intestine. These attacks lead to damage on the villi, small finger-like projections that line the small intestine and promote nutrient absorption. When the villi get damaged, nutrients cannot be absorbed properly into the body.

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Celiac disease is hereditary, meaning it runs in families. People with a first-degree relative with celiac disease (parent, child, sibling) have a 1 in 10 risk of developing celiac disease.

Longterm health effects

Celiac disease can develop at any age after people start eating foods or medicines that contain gluten.

Left untreated, celiac disease can lead to additional serious health problems. These include the development of other autoimmune disorders like Type I Diabetes and multiple sclerosis (MS), dermatitis (an itchy skin rash), anemia, osteoporosis, infertility and miscarriage, neurological conditions like epilepsy and migraines, short stature and intestinal cancers.


Currently, the only treatment for celiac disease is lifelong adherence to a strict gluten-free diet.

People living gluten-free must avoid foods with wheat, rye and barley, such as bread and beer. Ingesting small amounts of gluten, like crumbs from a cutting board or toaster, can trigger small intestine damage.

Celiac disease is also known as coeliac disease, celiac sprue, non-tropical sprue and gluten sensitive enteropathy.

Longterm health conditions

Undiagnosed or untreated celiac disease can lead to:

— Iron deficiency anemia

— Early onset osteoporosis or osteopenia

— Infertility and miscarriage

— Lactose intolerance

— Vitamin and mineral deficiencies

— Central and peripheral nervous system disorders

— Pancreatic insufficiency

— Intestinal lymphomas and other GI cancers (malignancies)

— Gall bladder malfunction

— Neurological manifestations, including ataxia, epileptic seizures, dementia, migraine, neuropathy, myopathy and multifocal leukoencephalopathy.

Do you have Celiac Disease?

Adults are less likely to have digestive symptoms, with only one-third experiencing diarrhea. Adults are more likely to have:

— unexplained iron-deficiency anemia

— fatigue

— bone or joint pain

— arthritis

— osteoporosis or osteopenia (bone loss)

— liver and biliary tract disorders (transaminitis, fatty liver, primary sclerosing cholangitis, etc.)

— depression or anxiety

— peripheral neuropathy (tingling, numbness or pain in the hands and feet)

— seizures or migraines

— missed menstrual periods

— infertility or recurrent miscarriage

— canker sores inside the mouth

— dermatitis (itchy skin rash).

Who should get screened?

— Children older than 3 and adults experiencing symptoms of celiac disease

— First-degree relatives of people with celiac disease (parents, siblings and children) have a 1 in 10 risk compared to 1 in 100 in the general population

— Any individual with an associated autoimmune disorder or other condition, especially Type 1 Diabetes mellitus, autoimmune thyroid disease, autoimmune liver disease, Down syndrome, Turner syndrome, Williams syndrome, and selective immunoglobulin A (IgA) deficiency.


There are several serologic (blood) tests available that screen for celiac disease antibodies, but the most commonly used is called a tTG-IgA test. For this test to work, you must be consuming gluten. If blood test results suggest celiac disease, your physician will recommend a biopsy of your small intestine to confirm the diagnosis.

Why get screened?

Celiac disease is a lifelong autoimmune disorder that affects multiple parts of your body which can lead to other serious illnesses whether or not you are on a gluten-free diet.

Clark County Health Department supports families through a variety of programming and services, including: family planning, immunizations, WIC, HANDS, community education events and Cooper Clayton smoking cessation. For more information on services, please call 744-4482 or visit clarkhealthdept.org. Article information taken from celiac.org.