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Celiac Disease and Tetany (Tremors)

What is Tetany?

Tetany is a symptom of involuntary muscle contractions and hyper-excited peripheral nerves. It occurs in the central and peripheral nervous systems where the parathyroid glands malfunction, most often due to electrolyte imbalance and low calcium levels in the blood. 

Symptoms of tetany include, but are not limited to:

  • Numbness around mouth
  • Muscle spasms
  • Tingling or burning sensation in hands and feet (paresthesia)
  • Difficulty breathing due to voice box spasms (laryngospasm) or tightening of muscles lining lung airways (bronchospasms)
  • Painful muscle cramps
  • Vomiting
  • Seizures
  • Decreased cardiac function such as arrhythmia

Tetany is seen alongside the following conditions:

  • Electrolyte imbalance
  • Vitamin D deficiency (more common in infants)
  • Parathyroid disease
  • Calcium deficiency
  • Magnesium deficiency

Tetany can affect people of all ages, but tetany related to vitamin D deficiency is more common in children three to six months of age, or within the first week of life in infants born to mothers with vitamin D deficiency.

What is the Connection Between Tetany and Celiac Disease?

If untreated, celiac disease usually leads to malabsorption and vitamin deficiencies. Vitamin deficiencies can lead to tetany. Thus, tetany can be a temporary symptom of celiac disease, and should resolve on the gluten-free diet.

In severe cases, celiac disease can lead to celiac crisis, with potentially life-threatening symptoms leading to hospitalization. One such symptom is acute diarrhea leading to extremely low calcium or magnesium levels. This can cause symptoms of tetany. A study found that a two-year-old boy was admitted to the hospital with muscle cramps and tremors, with reports of chronic diarrhea. The study found that tetany as a feature of celiac disease was caused by a severe calcium deficiency resulting from malabsorption.

A case study found spontaneous episodes of tetany in three adult patients who were later diagnosed with celiac disease. The original cause of tetany was calcium and magnesium deficiencies. After restoring calcium levels and eating a gluten-free diet, the symptoms of tetany were resolved.

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 tetany.

How is Tetany Treated?

Tetany is a medical emergency and needs medical attention. Because tetany is a symptom of other conditions, it is always best to speak to your doctor if you’re experiencing tremors.  

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