Celiac disease, a serious genetic autoimmune disorder, has over 250 known symptoms.
The symptoms of celiac disease can vary greatly from person to person, which can make it challenging to diagnose. One individual may experience diarrhea and abdominal pain, while another may have feelings of irritability or depression. Some people show signs of the disease early in life, while others remain symptom-free well into adulthood. In certain cases, individuals with celiac disease may not exhibit any noticeable symptoms.
These variations in symptoms contribute to the difficulty of accurately diagnosing celiac disease, leading to an alarming statistic: approximately 83% of individuals with the condition are either undiagnosed or misdiagnosed with other medical conditions.
Left untreated, celiac disease can lead to additional complications, including other autoimmune disorders, osteoporosis, infertility, and certain types of cancer.
For a full list of the 281 associated symptoms, see University Health News.
Some of the most common symptoms of celiac disease include the following:
Classical celiac disease is characterized by malabsorption, such as diarrhea, steatorrhea, weight loss, or growth failure. This form of the disease includes cases where patients experience both diarrhea and weight loss, as well as those who present with weight loss and anemia. These are the symptoms that were traditionally associated with celiac disease, but it’s becoming less common than non-classical celiac disease. Doctors now recognize constipation and weight gain as symptoms of celiac disease, too.
Non-classical celiac disease manifests without the traditionally-accepted signs and symptoms. In these instances, patients do not suffer from malabsorption, but may have symptoms like constipation and brain fog. Patients may not present with any of the traditional GI symptoms, but rather with neurological issues, such as depression, migraines or irritability, or may only have uncommon symptoms such as poor teeth quality or night blindness.
Some patients with celiac disease have no symptoms at all. This is called “asymptomatic” or “silent celiac disease.” This occurs when individuals with celiac disease do not display any external symptoms, but still have internal damage to the small intestine or blood results indicating celiac disease.
It’s unclear why some patients do not experience outward symptoms. However, it’s important to note that even individuals with asymptomatic celiac disease will still sustain intestinal damage if they consume gluten, despite not feeling unwell. They should stick to a strict gluten-free diet—no cheat days.
Potential celiac disease is characterized by a positive blood test result, but a normal or almost normal endoscopy. Patients are usually asked to return in a year or two to repeat the testing.
Non-responsive celiac disease is defined as continuing to have persistent symptoms, elevated antibodies or small intestinal damage even after following a strict gluten-free diet for six to 12 months. Learn more about non-responsive celiac disease.
Refractory celiac disease is marked by a lack of response to a strict gluten-free diet after six to 12 months, with symptoms, intestinal damage and an abnormal population of white blood cells in the gut.
These cells, called abnormal intraepithelial lymphocytes, are unique immune cells found in the lining of the small intestine. Their presence is the distinguishing characteristic of refractory celiac disease because they can be the beginning of cancer. Learn more about refractory celiac disease.
Celiac disease symptoms can develop gradually or all at once; because of this and the fact that there are so many symptoms associated with CD, there are no generally agreed upon “warning signs.” However, celiac disease tends to run in families, so all first-degree relatives of someone with celiac disease should also be tested for CD.
If an individual with celiac disease eats gluten and has symptoms, many in the community call it a “glutening.” A glutening looks different for each patient: some will spend the next 12 hours heaving over the toilet, whereas others may feel extra-sleepy or have a debilitating headache. Some have an itchy rash called dermatitis herpetiformis, whereas others may experience depression or irritability. It really depends on the individual!
People with celiac disease may have pain in the abdomen, joints or bones.
Yes, you can develop celiac disease at any time in life.
There’s only one way to find out—get tested!
Testing starts will a simple and easy blood test. If that’s positive, patients usually go on to get an upper endoscopy. It’s important to note that you must be eating gluten for the tests to be accurate. Learn more about the testing process.
Because the symptoms vary so widely, and because some patients have no symptoms at all, patients should not be barred from testing based on symptoms or lack thereof. If your doctor doesn’t want to test you, consider sending them to this page!