MAY 12, 2015 1:37 PM PDT

Are Celiac Disease and Neuropathy Connected?

WRITTEN BY: Ilene Schneider
A new study conducted by Dr. Jonas F. Ludvigsson of the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, Sweden, and published in JAMA Neurology, shows that people with Celiac Disease are 2.5 times more likely to receive a diagnosis of neuropathy later in life. According to the study, which was reported by Honor Whiteman in Medical News Today (http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/293754.php), the connection between Celiac Disease and nerve damage was reported 50 years ago. Furthermore, untreated Celiac Disease can lead to higher risk of nerve-related conditions, including multiple sclerosis.
Celiac Disease and neuropathy appear to be linked.
Celiac Disease, which affects about 1 percent of the U.S. population, "is a condition in which the immune system is abnormally sensitive to gluten, a protein found in wheat, rye, and barley," according to the National Institutes of Health website (http://ghr.nlm.nih.gov/condition/celiac-disease, which goes on to say that the disease is an autoimmune disorder in which the immune system malfunctions and attacks the body's own tissues and organs. The villi of the small intestine are damaged when a person consumes gluten. If a person with Celiac Disease does not maintain a "strict, lifelong gluten-free diet," the resulting immune system inflammation can lead to a variety of complications. While the disease can affect everyone differently, the condition can result in malnutrition, weight loss, diarrhea, vomiting and abdominal bloating in children and fatigue, bone or joint pain, arthritis and other non-digestive system complications in adults.

The NIH website adds that a Celiac diagnosis typically is not made until more than a decade after symptoms begin, and many of the symptoms might make it look as if the person has another disease. Additionally, some people have what is described as "silent celiac disease, in which they have no symptoms of the disorder." Most often such people "have immune proteins in their blood (antibodies) that are common in celiac disease. They also have inflammatory damage to their small intestine that can be detected with a biopsy."

In the new study Dr. Ludvigsson and his colleagues attempted to figure out the absolute and relative risk of neuropathy among a nationwide population-based sample of patients with a confirmed diagnosis of Celiac Disease. Participants in the study included 28,232 individuals from Sweden whose Celiac Disease was confirmed using small-intestine biopsies, alongside 139,473 age- and sex-matched people in a control group. Based on the results of later diagnosis, the researchers figured that participants with Celiac Disease were approximately 2.5 times more likely to receive a later diagnosis of neuropathy than those without Celiac Disease. They calculated that the absolute risk of developing neuropathy was about 64 per 100,000 person-years among participants with Celiac Disease, while the absolute risk of neuropathy was estimated at 15 per 100,000 person-years among participants who did not have the disease.

Cautioning that patients with neuropathy should be screened for Celiac Disease, the researchers concluded, "We found an increased risk of neuropathy in patients with Celiac Disease that persists after Celiac Disease diagnosis. Although absolute risks for neuropathy are low, Celiac Disease is a potentially treatable condition with a young age of onset."
About the Author
  • Ilene Schneider is the owner of Schneider the Writer, a firm that provides communications for health care, high technology and service enterprises. Her specialties include public relations, media relations, advertising, journalistic writing, editing, grant writing and corporate creativity consulting services. Prior to starting her own business in 1985, Ilene was editor of the Cleveland edition of TV Guide, associate editor of School Product News (Penton Publishing) and senior public relations representative at Beckman Instruments, Inc. She was profiled in a book, How to Open and Operate a Home-Based Writing Business and listed in Who's Who of American Women, Who's Who in Advertising and Who's Who in Media and Communications. She was the recipient of the Women in Communications, Inc. Clarion Award in advertising. A graduate of the University of Pennsylvania, Ilene and her family have lived in Irvine, California, since 1978.
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