If you have coeliac disease, there are several associated conditions and potential long term complications that you need to be aware of. As coeliac disease is an autoimmune condition, you are more predisposed to other autoimmune conditions, such as type 1 diabetes. Undiagnosed or untreated coeliac disease can result in complications such as osteoporosis. Switching to a gluten free diet will note only resolve your symptoms but will also reduce or eliminate the risk of long term complications.. We’ll look at a few of the different conditions associated with coeliac disease, helping to improve your awareness of the condition and associated complications.
If you suffer with coeliac disease, you have the genes that predispose you to this autoimmune disease. If you have one autoimmune disease it does put you at greater risk of suffering from another type of autoimmune disorder. For instance, coeliac disease is more common in people who suffer with autoimmune thyroid disease or Type 1 diabetes.
Type 1 diabetes – A person with Type 1 diabetes is at higher risk of developing coeliac disease. The prevalence of coeliac disease amongst the general population is 1%, however the prevalence of coeliac disease amongst people who also have type 1 diabetes is 4-9%.
Autoimmune thyroid disease – There is a 1-4% chance of suffering with coeliac disease if you have autoimmune thyroid disease, a higher percentage than the 1% of people suffering from coeliac disease amongst the general population.
Other genetic conditions
Down’s syndrome – a genetic condition that causes some level of learning disability in most people, it is also more common amongst people with Down’s syndrome to suffer from coeliac disease.
Turner syndrome – a female-only genetic disorder that comes with some distinctive characteristics yet a wide array of symptoms. Those women with Turner syndrome are more likely to suffer from coeliac disease.
Complications of undiagnosed or untreated coeliac disease
Osteoporosis – one of the problems that may occur in people whose diagnosis of coeliac disease has been delayed, is osteoporosis. This is the condition where the bones become brittle and thin, due to the lack of calcium absorption over a period of time.
Lactose intolerance – Lactose is the sugar found in milk and dairy products. Lactose is broken down in the gut by a ‘lactase’ enzymes. Coeliac disease causes damage to the part of the gut where these enzymes are produced, resulting in lactose intolerance, the symptoms of which may be similar to coeliac disease. Lactose intolerance is usually temporary and most people are able to eat lactose again once they are established on a gluten free diet and their gut has healed,
Fertility – although there is no greater chance of fertility problems amongst women with coeliac disease who are following a gluten-free diet, undiagnosed or untreated coeliac disease may lead to a higher chance of unexplained infertility.
Lymphoma and small bowel cancer – one of the most serious complications of undiagnosed or untreated coeliac disease is a slightly higher risk of lymphoma and small bowel cancer. If a person has been living a gluten-free diet for between three to five years however, the risk of developing cancer is the same as the general population.
1 in every 100 people in the UK are affected by Coeliac disease and coeliac symptoms, but only around 36% of those people have received a diagnosis. If you are looking for help, seek assistance from your GP. Do not start a gluten free diet until you have received a formal diagnosis. Once you have been diagnosed, speak to your dietitian about the possibility of receiving gluten free foods on prescription.