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Celiac Disease and COPD

What is COPD?

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is an group of inflammatory diseases of the lungs. It includes emphysema and chronic bronchitis. COPD causes airflow blockage, which can make breathing difficult. 

Symptoms of COPD include, but are not limited to:

  • Shortness of breath (especially during physical activities)
  • Chronic cough
  • Mucus (sputum) production
  • Wheezing
  • Chest tightness 
  • Frequent respiratory infections
  • Lack of energy
  • Unintended weight loss
  • Swelling in ankles, feet, legs

COPD is frequently seen alongside the following conditions:

  • Emphysema
  • Chronic bronchitis
  • Alpha-1-antitrypsin (AAt) deficiency 
  • Asthma
  • Respiratory infections
  • Heart problems
  • Lung cancer

COPD can affect people of all ages, but it’s most common in women aged 65-84 and men aged 75-84. COPD is progressive and gets worse over time, but it is treatable. 

What is the Connection Between COPD and Celiac Disease?

A nationwide cohort study from 2011 found that men with celiac disease were at a higher risk of COPD than women with celiac disease, and that patients with celiac disease are at a moderately increased risk for COPD.

Another study, done in 1981, found a history of asthma, chronic bronchitis, or chronic cough was present in patients with celiac at a higher rate than the non-celiac control group. This article does not mention COPD by name, but chronic bronchitis falls under the current diagnosis of COPD.

A case study done of two lifelong nonsmokers found that there may be a link between celiac disease and lung obstruction. The researchers suggest looking for celiac disease in patients with emphysema, particularly when risk factors such as smoking are not present. 

Finally, recent research suggests that COPD may be autoimmune in nature, such as a research study from 2018, which found autoantibodies in COPD patients. Given that patients with one autoimmune condition are more likely to develop other autoimmune conditions, it follows that celiac disease and COPD could have that connection.

Regardless of ongoing research, if you have celiac disease and are experiencing symptoms even while strictly adhering to the gluten-free diet, you may want to speak with your doctor about COPD.

How is COPD Treated?

There is currently no cure for COPD, but there are many treatment options available. For those who smoke, quitting smoking is often the first step to treating COPD. Depending on how severe the condition is, treatments range from medication to pulmonary rehabilitation to supplemental oxygen.

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Think you may have celiac disease?

Symptoms Checklist