A very large study of people who were diagnosed with celiac disease has found that the disease appears to be linked with an increased risk of nerve damage. People with celiac were about 2.5 times more likely to be diagnosed with nerve damage (neuropathy) as those without celiac.
Celiac disease is a disease where the immune system attacks the lining of the small intestine when gluten is eaten. Gluten is a protein found primarily in wheat, but also in barley and rye grain. The association between celiac disease and neuropathy has been known for some time, but the actual risk of neuropathy for people with celiac was not known.
Researchers at Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons, the Karolinska Institut in Stockholm, and Orebro University Hospital in Orebro, Sweden, collected data on biopsies of the small intestine that were done in Sweden between 1989 and 2008. They compared the risk of neuropathy in more than 28,000 people diagnosed with celiac disease with that of nearly 140,000 people who did not have celiac. They found that 198 people with celiac disease (about 0.7%) later were diagnosed with neuropathy, compared to 359 (0.3%) of those without it.
Although the actual risk of developing nerve damage is low, the researchers noted that it might be beneficial for physicians to screen patients who are diagnosed with celiac for nerve damage.
Celiac affects about 1% of the population of the United States, which is about 1 in every 133 Americans. It is believed that more than 80% of people with celiac are either not diagnosed or are diagnosed incorrectly as having another disease. In children, symptoms of celiac disease include diarrhea, vomiting, bloating, and weight loss as well as failure to grow properly. In adults, the symptoms can include fatigue, bone and joint pain, arthritis, or other symptoms.