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Celiac Disease Symptoms, Continued

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Updated August 12, 2014

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

Endocrine System Celiac Disease Symptoms

Celiac disease can affect your hormones and other functions of your endocrine system. In fact, celiac disease is found in 2 to 5% of patients with either thyroid disease or type 1 diabetes, and also appears frequently in patients with Sjogren's syndrome (an autoimmune condition in which your mouth and eyes become dry).

Patients with Addison's disease (when your adrenal glands fail to produce enough of two essential hormones), hypophysitis (inflammation of your pituitary gland), or multiple endocrine diseases all carry a higher risk for celiac disease.

Reproductive health issues, including infertility, skipped periods, late puberty and early menopause also can signal undiagnosed celiac disease (although again, there are other potential reasons for these symptoms).

Women with celiac are significantly more likely than other women to experience pregnancy problems and repeated miscarriages.

And, celiac can affect your sexuality, too.

More on endocrine system-related symptoms of celiac:

Skin Disorders Linked to Celiac

Up to one-fourth of people with celiac suffer from dermatitis herpetiformis, an intensely itchy skin rash. If you have dermatitis herpetiformis plus positive celiac blood tests, you have celiac disease -- no further testing required.

However, people with celiac also suffer from a variety of other skin problems, including psoriasis, eczema, alopecia areata, hives and even such common problems as acne and dry skin. Although there's no firm evidence that gluten ingestion causes these problems, a gluten-free diet helps clear them up in some cases.

More on celiac skin symptoms:

Symptoms Related to Bones and Joints

Osteoporosis, in which your bones become thin and weak, frequently appears in concert with celiac disease, since when you have celiac you can't absorb the nutrients needed to keep your bones strong.

But other bone and joint issues, such as joint pain, bone pain, rheumatoid arthritis and fibromyalgia also occur with regularity in celiacs. It's not clear what the connection is, but in some cases the gluten-free diet can alleviate pain from these conditions.

Children with undiagnosed celiac disease often fall behind the growth curve, and this delayed growth or "failure to thrive" may be the only symptom of celiac disease in a child. If the child gets diagnosed prior to puberty and begins a strict gluten-free diet, she often can make up some or all of the height. Adults with undiagnosed celiac often suffer from short stature.

More on bone and joint disorders that may be symptoms of celiac disease:

Celiac Disease and Dental Issues

People with celiac disease often have terrible teeth and problematic gums.

In adults with undiagnosed celiac disease, frequent cavities, eroding enamel and other recurring dental problems can signal the condition. Children with undiagnosed celiac might have spots on their new teeth with no enamel, delayed eruption of their teeth (either baby or adult), and multiple cavities.

Aphthous ulcers, also known as canker sores, occur in both adults and children with undiagnosed celiac disease (and in diagnosed celiacs when they ingest gluten accidentally). These painful mouth sores frequently crop up on the inside of your lips in areas where you've had a very minor injury (such as a scratch from a sharp piece of food). Once they start, they can take up to a week to subside.

It's also not unusual to find undiagnosed celiac in someone with periodontal disease or badly receding gums. In some cases, the gluten-free diet can help to reverse some of the damage that's been done.

More on celiac disease and dental issues:

Cancer and Celiac Disease

In very unusual cases, the first obvious sign that a patient has unrecognized celiac disease is the frightening diagnosis of celiac-related cancer. Fortunately, cancer cases remain very rare, even in people who have had celiac symptoms for years but remained undiagnosed.

Celiac disease can raise your risk for lymphoma, adenocarcinoma of the small intestine, carcinoid tumors and gastrointestinal stromal tumors.

Symptoms of these types of cancer include abdominal pain and unexplained weight loss -- two symptoms that also can signal celiac disease. However, even if you have those two symptoms, it's still highly unlikely that you have one of these cancers, which are not at all common.

It's not clear whether people with celiac disease (either diagnosed or undiagnosed) suffer from an increased risk for colon cancer, although a recent study found that celiacs are no more likely to be diagnosed with colon polyps, considered a precursor to colon cancer.

More on celiac disease and cancer:

Bottom Line: Symptoms Are A Guide, But Not Definitive

Celiac disease can masquerade as many, many other conditions (for example, I've heard of more than one person misdiagnosed with multiple sclerosis when in fact they actually had celiac). However, just because you have any of these symptoms (or even lots of them), it doesn't mean you necessarily have celiac disease -- it just means you should consider being tested for it.

As I said before, the good news is you may notice many minor health complaints disappearing once you're diagnosed and on the gluten-free diet — symptoms you never would have thought were related to gluten.

Keep current on celiac and new gluten-free products by signing up for my free celiac disease-gluten-free diet newsletter!

Sources:

Celiac Disease Symptoms Can Be Elusive. National Foundation for Celiac Awareness. Accessed April 16, 2011.

P. Collin et al. Endocrinological Disorders and Celiac Disease. Endocrine Reviews. 2005; 23 (4): 464-483.

National Institutes of Health Consensus Development Conference on Celiac Disease, June 28-30, 2004. Accessed April 16, 2011.

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