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Miscarriage More Common Among Women with Celiac Disease

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Updated October 23, 2011

Written or reviewed by a board-certified physician. See About.com's Medical Review Board.

Women with undiagnosed celiac disease may be twice as likely as other women to suffer from repeated miscarriages, but once they're diagnosed, treatment with the gluten-free diet appears to improve their chances of carrying their babies to term.

Based on this, women who have experienced repeated miscarriages might want to consider screening for celiac disease, according to the authors of several medical studies.

Celiac Disease Linked to Miscarriage, Stillbirths

Medical researchers, plus some obstetrician-gynecologists, are beginning to realize that undiagnosed celiac disease could cause infertility in numerous cases. The link between celiac disease and miscarriage also is receiving increasing attention.

In a large study looking at the reproductive life cycle of Italian celiac women, the researchers found nearly twice as many miscarriages in women with celiac disease as they did in women without the condition. Other studies have conformed that finding, with one team of medical researchers reporting the rate of "spontaneous abortion" (i.e., miscarriage) among untreated celiac women is nearly nine times higher.

Generally, the researchers blame malnutrition from untreated celiac disease for the miscarriages, although several studies didn't find major signs of malnutrition — with the exception of iron deficiency anemia — in the women who had miscarried. It's possible that another mechanism involving gluten antibodies and the immune system is to blame, some researchers speculate.

Gluten-Free Diet Can Prevent Miscarriages in Celiac Women

Nonetheless, research definitely shows that women diagnosed with celiac disease who adopt a gluten-free diet can overcome their histories of repeated miscarriages and carry babies to term.

For example, one small study followed 13 women with recurrent miscarriages who were diagnosed with celiac disease and who began to follow the gluten-free diet. Six of the 13 women became pregnant — one within one year of starting the gluten-free diet, three within two years of starting the diet, one after three years and one after four years. Two of the women had multiple pregnancies — one had two children and another had three children within the seven-year follow-up period to the study.

Additional studies, plus anecdotal evidence from women with a history of miscarriage who were later diagnosed with celiac disease, support these findings.

Should You Be Screened for Celiac Disease if You've Had a Miscarriage?

Since many people who test positive for celiac disease do not exhibit overt celiac disease symptoms, it's difficult to tell without testing if your miscarriages could be related to gluten consumption. Some infertility specialists, but not all, recommend routine celiac disease screening for patients who have experienced unexplained infertility or recurrent miscarriages.

Positive celiac disease tests are more common among women who previously had been diagnosed with irritable bowel syndrome, but they also occur in women who don't report gastrointestinal symptoms.

If you think celiac disease could be responsible for your recurrent miscarriages, talk to your doctor about testing for the condition.

Sources:

Celiac Disease and Reproductive Problems. Accessed Jan. 4, 2011.

F. Foschi et al. [Celiac disease and spontaneous abortion]. Minerva Ginecologica. 2002 Apr;54(2):151-9.

D. Martinelli et al. Reproductive life disorders in Italian celiac women. A case-control study. BMC Gastroenterology. 2010 Aug 6;10:89.

A. Tursi et al. Effect of gluten-free diet on pregnancy outcome in celiac disease patients with recurrent miscarriages. Digestive Diseases and Sciences. 2008 Nov;53(11):2925-8.

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