The symptoms of celiac disease (CD) can vary depending upon the individual. According to the University of Chicago Medicine, there are more than 200 signs and symptoms of CD. We’re going to cover a broad range of symptoms that people with celiac disease may experience, but this list will by no means be comprehensive.
That being said, it should also be noted that some people with CD experience no symptoms at all. This is because there is enough of the small intestine left undamaged that it can still absorb nutrients without causing any negative symptoms. Obviously, this can make CD very difficult to identify without proper testing and diagnosis.
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Common symptoms in children
As may be expected, digestive issues are common in people who suffer from celiac disease. The National Institute of Health states that children or adolescents are much more likely to experience these digestive complications compared to adults who suffer from celiac disease.
Digestive problems can range from the following:
- Chronic diarrhea
- Bloating or uncomfortable swelling in the stomach
- Nausea and/or vomiting
- Fatty stools that float
- Pale, foul-smelling stool
Other symptoms children may experience include:
- Weight loss
- ADHD or other behavioral issues
- Failure to thrive
- Short stature
- Damaged tooth enamel
- Delayed puberty or growth
These symptoms arise because of the small intestine’s inability to absorb nutrients. The child’s body is missing out on many important vitamins and minerals that aid in proper growth and development during this important time of their life.
Varied symptoms in adults
Adults are less likely to experience digestive issues with only about ⅓ of adults with CD reporting that they suffer from diarrhea. Outside of the gastrointestinal issues listed above, adults may experience stomach pain, intestinal blockages, or ulcers in the intestine. These can be incredibly painful and debilitating.
Celiac disease is an autoimmune disease which means that the body’s immune system attacks its own healthy tissues. Symptoms from this reaction be incredibly broad and affect many different systems of the body.
Some common symptoms that adults with CD may experience include:
- Iron-deficiency anemia that doesn’t improve with iron therapy
- Depression or anxiety
- Infertility or repeated miscarriage
- Missed menstrual periods
- Canker sores or dry mouth
- Numbness in extremities
- Osteoporosis or osteopenia
- An abnormally red, shiny tongue
An in-depth look at common symptoms
If your digestive system is upset, it’s highly likely that you’ll be able to see signs of your condition when you go to the toilet.
Diarrhea is the most common symptom of celiac disease. Diarrhea is caused by your body not being able to absorb nutrients properly. This makes your stools abnormally high in fat, which makes them greasy and very unpleasant smelling.
Bloating, Flatulence, And Abdominal Pain
Again, if your digestive system is struggling to handle the gluten you’ve consumed, it’s going to complain about it.
Our bodies simply aren’t equipped to process the large amounts of processed carbohydrates that the Standard American Diet loves so much. The side effect of eating such things is excess gas, which causes bloating, flatulence, and strange gurgling sounds. Excess gas can also lead to abdominal pain and discomfort because of all the pressure that builds up inside you.
Celiac disease can cause unexpected weight loss and gain, although these symptoms are more common in children than in adults. Gluten sensitivity affects weight because those with celiac disease have trouble processing and absorbing their food.
Malnutrition is the cause of many of the symptoms of celiac disease. Celiac disease can make your body unable to digest food normally, which can lead to you becoming malnourished because you haven’t been able to absorb the vitamins and nutrients your body needs. Symptoms of malnourishment include headaches, tiredness, and, in children, a lack of growth and delayed puberty.
Nausea And Vomiting
If you have celiac disease and you’re consuming gluten, your body sees gluten as an irritant, so it makes sense that it would react by making you feel nauseous and maybe even vomiting.
Tingling And Numbness
Approximately one in ten people who are diagnosed with celiac disease suffer from a neurological condition because of their gluten intolerance. The most common issue is peripheral neuropathy, a condition that is marked by numbness and tingling, often in the sufferer’s hands.
If you have an autoimmune response to gluten, you may develop an itchy and blister-covered rash on your elbows, knees, and backside. This is called dermatitis herpetiformis and approximately one in five people with celiac disease suffer from this.
Symptoms may affect…
Many people report having joint pain in the knees, back, hips, wrists, and shoulders. This pain can flare up and go away sporadically depending on the person’s specific gluten ingestion.
For some people, an itchy, uncomfortable rash is a sign of celiac disease. This rash is referred to as dermatitis herpetiformis. It usually shows up on the scalp, elbows, knees, back, or buttocks.
Surprisingly, it most commonly appears for the first time in people between the ages of 30 and 40, but it can affect people of all ages. It’s estimated that dermatitis herpetiformis occurs in about 10% of people with celiac disease.
Calcium is vital for the health of our bones. Because the small intestine helps our body absorb nutrients, a person with celiac disease is most likely deficient in this important mineral. This can lead to bone density issues including osteoporosis and osteopenia.
Osteopenia is a condition in which bone density begins to lessen over time. Osteoporosis is a serious condition in which fractures are more likely to occur because of the decreased bone density.
Causes for variation of symptoms
As you can see, symptoms of celiac disease range across the spectrum. It truly depends on the individual as to which symptoms occur. Scientists have nailed down a few reasons why symptoms are so varied for people.
- The age that the person started eating gluten-containing foods
- How long the person was breastfed as a baby
- The amount of gluten a person eats in a day
- A person’s age
- How much damage has been done to the small intestine before being diagnosed with celiac disease
How To Reduce The Symptoms Of Celiac Disease
Most people with celiac disease tackle the condition by following a gluten-free diet. However, it is extremely difficult to eliminate gluten from your diet entirely simply by avoiding products that are known to contain gluten because gluten seems to get everywhere!
A much better way to relieve yourself from the symptoms of celiac disease is to eat paleo. By eating paleo, you avoid consuming overly processed carbs and packaged “health foods” that proudly display the “gluten-free” label. You also avoid other potentially inflammatory proteins, such as those contained in oats, rice, corn, and other grains. Eating naturally occurring foods that humans ate before the agricultural revolution is the best way to keep these harmful substances out of your body.
For more information on the symptoms of celiac disease, please consult the following resources:
This is the “symptoms” section of our celiac guide series. Check out the other installments below:
- The Ultimate Guide to Celiac Disease
- Testing for Celiac Disease
- Treatment for Celiac Disease
- Celiac Disease & Your Diet
- Awareness of Celiac Disease
- Celiac Disease & Our Anatomy
- Celiac Disease & Weight Gain
- Celiac Disease & Alcohol
- Celiac Disease FAQ
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