The Lesser Known Signs and Symptoms of Coeliac Disease
When it comes to Coeliac Disease there is a wide range of signs and symptoms in both adults and children that can vary in severity, whilst some people may have little or no obvious symptoms. That is because Coeliac Disease is a 'multi-system' disorder, meaning it can affect any part of the body. Having said that, the main damage on the body is initially the gut, which can then lead to many of the symptoms I will discuss below.
Coeliac Disease is not a black or white disease, and there is such things as a 'Coeliac Spectrum'. That is why everybody's experience is different and also why Coeliac Disease is so under-diagnosed. Studies suggest around 1% of the Western population has CD however only around 10-15% of those who that have the disease in the UK are diagnosed - with a staggering 85% not aware they have it and remained undetected.
I liken Coeliac Disease symptoms to the iceberg analogy. The obvious symptoms are visible to the naked eye above the surface of the water and easier to spot, but the majority of the iceberg continues deeper under the waters surface, and can often be missed, much like some other less obvious symptoms of Coeliac Disease.
The 'typical' or 'classic' symptoms of Coeliac Disease are largely digestive in nature. Mainly
chronic diarrhoea (that can be particularly foul smelling), excessive flatulence, stomach pains and cramping, bloating (also known as abdominal distension) and unexplained nausea and vomiting. This is what is usually noticed and actioned first by the individual, and this was certainly the case with myself.
However other 'atypical' symptoms are now being seen in more Coeliac Disease patients over the last few years and are outweighing the classic disgestive symptoms. These include an irregular heartbeat, anaemia, chronic fatigue, unexplained weight loss, mouth ulcers, repeated miscarraiges, headaches/brain fog and skin problems.
One aspect of undiagnosed Coeliac Disease which is least realised is Gluten Neuropathy. This categorises all the neurological symptoms of the disease, and has only really come to light in recent years. Symptoms include ataxia (loss of co-ordination, clumsiness) and feelings of numbness and tingling particularly in the hands and feet. But also brain fog and heavy headaches can occur.
Those with Coeliac disease are at more than twice the risk of developing some form of neuropathy than the general population. In fact research by Coeliac UK found in a study of patients with newly diagnosed Coeliac Disease, who had gone to a gastroenterology clinic, around three out of five had neurological symptoms including severe headache (45%), balance problems (26%) and sensory symptoms (14%). These can be really worrying for the individual. And what is even more strange is one recent study found that some people with Coeliac Disease had neuropathic symptoms BEFORE the gastrointestinal symptoms appeared.
As you read through these symptoms the one thing that is obvious to me is that there is such a vast array, it could be very easy to mistake them for another condition entirely such as Irritable bowel syndrome, a brain condition or maybe even stress. And therefore the stats on diagnosis begins to make sense.
However, what is re-assuring is following a strict gluten free diet should alleviate or completely eradicate these signs and symptoms in most people Coeliac Disease.
Thanks for reading,
The Coeliac Nutritionist NI