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Celiac Disease

This is the second article in Pain.com’s four-part series about celiac disease. This article focuses on the symptoms of celiac disease. In general, the symptoms of celiac disease are fairly variable from patient to patient. The symptoms of celiac disease can be categorized into two categories: gastrointestinal symptoms and symptoms relating to malnutrition.

Digestive symptoms with celiac disease are neither consistent from patient to patient nor necessary for a diagnosis. This is rather unusual for a disorder that directly affects the digestive system. Digestive symptoms are more common in children with celiac disease than adults with celiac disease. Possible gastrointestinal symptoms include diarrhea, constipation, gas, bloating, abdominal cramps, abdominal pain, nausea and vomiting. A person with celiac disease may have abnormal stools, such as stools with a high fat content, greyish discolored stools, stools that smell foul or rotten and, in some cases, bloody stools. Also, a person with celiac disease may be lactose intolerant, experiencing digestive symptoms when they eat dairy products. This symptom usually resolves when the person’s celiac disease is treated successfully.

People with celiac disease may have symptoms that are a result of decreased absorption of nutrients by the small intestine. If a person does not absorb enough calories into their system even though they have a normal food intake, they can lose weight. Not all people with celiac disease lose weight; it is possible for some celiac disease sufferers to be overweight. Children with celiac disease can end up having growth deficiencies. Almost all people who have celiac disease eventually have some kind of symptoms related to some kind of deficiency in essential vitamins or minerals.

Anemia, or a deficiency in red blood cells, can be caused by a deficiency in iron due to celiac disease. People with anemia can have symptoms such as bruising easily, fatigue, weakness, headache, dizziness and irritability. Other vitamin and mineral deficiencies due to celiac disease can also cause fatigue.

Deficiency in calcium and phosphorus, two minerals essential to maintaining a healthy bone density, can lead to osteoporosis, a condition in which bones become thin, brittle and prone to fracture. People with celiac disease may also develop arthritis, or joint inflammation.

Peripheral neuropathy, a condition in which nerves that supply sensation in the feet and hands are damaged, can also develop in people with celiac disease due to vitamin deficiencies. Peripheral neuropathy can take the form of ongoing numbness, tingling or burning pain in the hands and feet.

Malnutrition related to celiac disease may cause a woman to stop having menstrual periods, or to have irregular periods. This woman may or may not still be ovulating; just because she does not have normal periods does not necessarily mean that she can not get pregnant. Some women with celiac disease become infertile due to malnutrition. Pregnant women with celiac disease who are malnourished may have an increased risk of having a miscarriage.

A skin rash called dermatitis herpetiformis can occur in some celiac disease sufferers. This rash is itchy and blistering. The rash is usually roughly symmetrical and it occurs mainly on the dorsal side of the body, or the back and buttocks, along with the back of the arms and legs. The dermatitis herpetiformis rash is not as common in children with celiac disease as it is in adults with celiac disease.

Repeated damage to the wall of the intestines due to the autoimmune attack involved with celiac disease increases a person’s chance of getting intestinal cancer. Other potential complications of celiac disease include depression, nosebleeds, seizures and chronic sores on the inside of the mouth.

The next article in this series about celiac disease will discuss how celiac disease is diagnosed.