Celiac Disease: What You Don’t Know, Can Hurt You

celiac word in letterpress typeCeliac disease is an autoimmune digestive disorder that causes the immune system to attack the small intestines every time gluten is consumed. Symptoms can vary greatly and many people don’t experience any digestive symptoms at all, which makes diagnosing celiac disease difficult. In fact, it’s estimated that 83 percent of celiac sufferers in America are currently undiagnosed or misdiagnosed, and on average, it takes between 4 and 10 years of struggling with celiac disease before getting a proper diagnosis.[i][ii]

Delayed and/or improper diagnosis of celiac disease can cause severe intestinal damage, chronic systemic inflammation, serious malnourishment and an increased risk for developing additional health disorders. Iron deficiency anemia and lactose intolerance are common and undiagnosed disease may lead to menstrual irregularities, fertility issues, thyroid disease, depression, anxiety, neuropathy and seizures. Most worrisome of all, perhaps, is the increased risk for cancer, including gastrointestinal cancer, esophageal cancer, lymphoma and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma that is associated with untreated celiac disease.[iii]

With all this in mind, we at myWholeLife have compiled a list of disorders that celiac disease is often mistaken for. We hope you’ll read it through and send it off to anyone who has been diagnosed with these disorders but has not yet experienced an improvement in their symptoms because celiac disease may just be at the root of their problems. If you suffer from any of these conditions, talk to your doctor about ruling out celiac disease as a cause of your symptoms – all it takes is a simple blood test.  

Rheumatoid Arthritis

Symptoms of celiac disease can often mimic symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis, resulting in an incorrect diagnosis. Both diseases are inflammatory in nature, and they can cause joint pain, tingling and numbing of hands and feet, slow healing and Sjogren’s syndrome.

Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) and Fibromyalgia

A study published in the November 2013 edition of Arthritis Research & Therapy found that there is a much greater likelihood of suffering from celiac disease if you also suffer from both fibromyalgia and IBS. It also found that following a long term gluten-free diet results in an improvement in the symptoms of all 3 diseases if you do have celiac disease[iv]. Some people are also misdiagnosed with fibromyalgia or IBS when they actually have celiac disease, so if you don’t notice an improvement in symptoms despite following an IBS or fibromyalgia treatment protocol, get yourself tested for celiac disease.

Multiple Sclerosis (MS)

Although there is no definitive connection between the two, it is estimated that about 10% of MS sufferers also have celiac disease.  Symptoms of MS can also mimic symptoms of celiac disease, which can result in a misdiagnosis. Talk to your doctor if you have any or a combination of the following symptoms: depression, fatigue, hormonal imbalances, pain, diarrhea and constipation.

Celiac Disease and Osteoporosis

Osteoporosis is a common diagnosis amongst undiagnosed celiac sufferers because celiac disease results in both inflammation and malabsorption of essential nutrients for bone health (such as calcium and vitamin d). In this condition, bone loss ensues and if celiac disease is left untreated, the lowered bone density can lead to osteoporosis.[v] A study conducted at the University of Edinburgh found that celiac disease can also cause your immune system to attack your own bone tissue, further increasing bone loss and your chance of developing osteoporosis.[vi]  

Further reading:

http://www.nice.org.uk/nicemedia/live/12166/44356/44356.pdf
http://www.csaceliacs.info/the_great_mimic.jsp

References:

[i] http://www.celiaccentral.org/celiac-disease/facts-and-figures/
[ii] http://www.uchospitals.edu/pdf/uch_007937.pdf
[iii] http://www.nice.org.uk/nicemedia/live/12166/44356/44356.pdf
[iv] http://arthritis-research.com/content/15/6/R201
[v] http://www.niams.nih.gov/Health_Info/Bone/Osteoporosis/Conditions_Behaviors/celiac.asp
[vi] http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/10/091007171735.htm