Last week, I talked about all the different ways Inflammatory Bowel Disease could affect your body; and this week I’ve decided to look at coeliac disease instead. One of the big problems with coeliac disease is missed diagnosis- and that’s because it’s assumed most of the symptoms relate to digestion. When in fact, there are many extra-intestinal symptoms of coeliac disease and it can cause problems with almost every organ in the body. The point of this post isn’t to scaremonger, but to raise awareness that symptoms of coeliac disease go far beyond a dodgy tummy. In fact, up to 60% of coeliac patients, have these extra-intestinal manifestations. Here’s some of them…
The head and mind
Headaches is one of the most common of these- it’s thought around 20% of coeliacs struggle with this problem. Yet, the connection to our brain goes beyond this; mental health problems are also a common symptom. Depression, anxiety and eating disorders occur more commonly in those with coeliac disease; even when under control.A strict gluten-free diet saw 50% of patients find an improvement in these symptoms once diagnosed: suggesting that this is both due to gluten itself but also could be due to the strains of living with an autoimmune disease.
Another common one. Of course, malabsorption from gluten can cause fatigue. As can nutritional deficiencies- B12, vitamin D and Iron being the most common. Remember, for some people it can take people many months for their gut to recover post-diagnosis and for some coeliacs, fatigue remains an issue. You can read more about how fatigue can affect your digestion here.
Of course, most of us know about Dermatitis herpetiformis: a skin manifestation of coeliac disease which occurs as a rash (usually on elbows, knees, shoulders, buttocks and face) with red, raised patches often with blisters. There’s also a risk of psoriasis. If you have Psoriasis, your three times more likely to have coeliac disease (but we’re not quite sure about how it works the other way around)
Up to 75% of people with coeliac disease can have low bone mass density. Not all of these will have osteoporosis (when bones become so thin that they’re more prone to break) but some will. The problem is that once our bone mass density is low, it’s very hard to get back on track. That’s why, if some people take years to diagnosis, it’s often far too late to fully recover-especially if they’re older.
Complications with eyesight are rare but worth a mention. For example, an association has been reported between celiac disease and inflammatory myopathie (inflammation of the muscles that control our eyes movement) but this is a very rare condition to have. Another study suggested that there might be a connection between coeliac disease and inflammation of the uvea (Uvetis). Finally, nutritional deficiencies from untreated coeliac disease can cause sight problems also. If you are scientifically minded, here’s some more information on how eyes might be linked to coeliac disease.
Other autoimmune diseases
Having coeliac disease, makes you much more likely to have other autoimmune diseases too. Coeliacs are between 4-9 times more likely to have Type 1 diabetes, up to 4 times more likely to have autoimmune thyroid disease and it’s also linked with Inflammatory Bowel Disease. Therefore, a coeliac diagnosis isn’t always the end of your health journey, and it’s important to be vigilant and be mindful of symptoms.