Women with biopsy-proven celiac disease have fewer fertile years and a more difficult time conceiving and staying pregnant, according to research presented at the recent American College of Gastroenterology meeting.
The study, performed by three clinicians at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital in Philadelphia, confirmed earlier research showing celiac women -- especially those who don't know they have the condition and therefore aren't following the gluten-free diet -- can face multiple women's health issues, including infertility.
"This study supports prior data showing a relationship between CD [celiac disease] and menstrual, fertility and pregnancy complications suggesting a need for increased awareness of this association among patients and physicians," the researchers concluded.
The study included 206 women with confirmed celiac disease, who were matched with control subjects who didn't have the condition. The study found that:
- The average age of first menarche was 12.9 years in the women with celiac disease, compared to 12.4 years in women without it
- The average age of menopause was 47.2 years in the women with celiac disease, compared to 49.9 years in women without it
- Nearly 44% of women with celiac disease said they had difficulty conceiving, compared to about 27% of women without it
- More women with celiac disease -- 24% -- had seen a fertility specialist, compared to 15% of women without it
- Nearly 22% of women with celiac disease were treated for infertility, compared to 14% of women without it
- Miscarriage occurred in 42% of women with celiac disease, compared to 31% of women without it
- Of the women with celiac disease who had a miscarriage, nearly 82% said it was prior to their diagnosis with celiac disease
- Women with celiac disease had fewer children -- an average of 1.5 children, compared to 1.84 children in the control group
Prior research has speculated that problems with fertility in celiac disease may be related to malnutrition and malabsorption. Here are some resources with in-depth looks at the women's health issues that may be impacted by celiac disease:
- Undiagnosed Celiac Disease Can Lead to Infertility
- Can Celiac Disease Cause Early Menopause?
- Miscarriage More Common Among Women with Celiac Disease
- Celiac Disease and Pregnancy Problems
- Can Undiagnosed Celiac Disease Cause Delayed Menarche in Young Women?
- Can Celiac Disease Cause Skipped Periods?
Celiac disease -- especially undiagnosed celiac disease -- also may affect men's fertility; read more in Celiac Disease May Be Linked To Male Infertility. And, it can affect sexuality in both genders -- for the details, see Celiac Disease Can Impact Your Sexuality.
Fortunately, many of the studies I've read indicate that getting diagnosed and following a strict gluten-free diet can help to alleviate some (but not all) of the above problems.
Photo © Stuart O'Sullivan