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Celiac Disease

Learn the warning signs and symptoms of celiac disease in adults and children, and discover how changes in your diet can lead to dramatic improvements in the quality of your life.

Understanding Celiac Disease Symptoms in Adults

Knowing and identifying symptoms of celiac disease in adults can pave the way to a proper diagnosis and enhance overall health and quality of life. Find out more here!

Understanding Celiac Disease Symptoms in Adults


Celiac disease impacts an estimated 1 in 133 Americans, or about 1 of the population, according to Beyond Celiac. However, an estimated 83 percent of Americans who have celiac disease are undiagnosed or misdiagnosed with other conditions.

What's more, the average time for a symptomatic person to be diagnosed with celiac is four years. A delayed diagnosis means delayed treatment, which increases the risk of developing added health complications.

Knowing the symptoms of celiac disease in adults helps pave the way to a diagnosis. In turn, proper management can enhance overall health and quality of life.

Understanding Celiac Disease

Celiac disease is an autoimmune disorder characterized by an abnormal response to ingested gluten. Gluten is a protein found in certain grains - wheat, barley, and rye - that helps food maintain their shape. It also acts as the glue to hold food together. 

When people with celiac disease consume gluten, it disturbs the gastrointestinal (GI) tract and the "toxic" fragments stimulate an immune system response. Essentially, the body believes and comprehends gluten is a harmful substance, thus attacking its own GI lining.

Celiac disease may even become triggered for the first time following surgery, pregnancy, childbirth, stress, or an infection. Additional risk factors for celiac disease include family history, type 1 diabetes, autoimmune thyroid disease, and rheumatoid arthritis.

Celiac Disease Symptoms in Adults

TheCeliac Disease Foundation suggests there are more than 200 known celiac disease symptoms that may occur in the digestive system or other parts of the body. Signs of celiac disease also vary between children (children s/s) and adults.

Classic symptoms of celiac disease include:

• Diarrhea
• Abdominal pain, bloating, and gas
• Nausea and vomiting
• Steatorrhea (fat in the stool)
• Indigestion and heartburn 

Digestive symptoms are more likely in children, though they can also occur in adults. However, celiac disease symptoms in adults are often unrelated to the gastrointestinal system and include those detailed below.

The severity of each mostly depends on how much the small intestine has been damaged due to gluten intake and its respective response.

Dermatitis Herpetiformis 

Dermatitis herpetiformis is an itchy, blistering skin rash mostly affecting the elbows, knees, and buttocks regions.

Peripheral Neuropathy

Peripheral neuropathy is the result of damage to peripheral nerves. It can cause tingling, numbness, or pain in the hands and feet.

Anemia

Damage to the small intestine interrupts the absorption of micronutrients, including anemia-related iron, vitamin B-12, and folate. Oftentimes first witnessed as an iron deficiency, symptoms frequently include fatigue, hair loss, and easy bruising.

Brittle Bones

When damage to the digestive tract occurs, absorption of calcium and vitamin D may also be disrupted. Inefficient absorption of the nutrients two vitamins and minerals ultimately increases the likelihood of weak, brittle bones. This raises the risk of osteoporosis.

Lactose Intolerance 

Milk products are naturally gluten-free. But damage to the small intestine reduces the ability of lactose - the natural sugar found in milk and most dairy products - to be efficiently absorbed. 

Eliminating lactose-containing products may also limit calcium and vitamin D, further increasing the risk of bone loss. 

Enamel Damage

Damage to the enamel may be a consequence of unmanaged celiac disease, especially if and as malnutrition becomes more prominent. Enamel plays a major role in teeth protection and damage to it can ultimately hinder good dental health.

Mouth Ulcers

Resembling canker sores, mouth sores related to celiac disease commonly occur at random. Whitish sores on the tongue and cheeks along with present enamel damage can help verify celiac mouth sores.

Joint Pain

If dealing with conjoined rheumatoid arthritis (RA) and celiac disease, avoiding or reducing gluten can ease joint pain. Even without an arthritic diagnosis, joint pain may still arise. 

Mood and Anxiety Disorders

Celiac disease has been associated with an increased risk of depression and anxiety.

Infertility

Both men and women can face infertility, involving a reduction in sexual desire and function. Women may have abnormal menstrual cycles and recurrent miscarriages.

Weight Loss

While not always, some people with undiagnosed and managed celiac disease might experience weight loss. This is because the body is unable to absorb nutrients and calories properly, thus increasing the risk of malnutrition. 

Diagnosing and Treating Celiac Disease in Adults

Properly diagnosing celiac disease requires many steps. Initially, recognizing symptoms of celiac disease often provokes individuals to wonder whether or not they have the condition. An antibody blood test and intestinal biopsy are needed to solidify a true celiac diagnosis.

If an individual does not positively test for celiac disease, a gluten intolerance or sensitivity may be issued. Gluten sensitivities often provoke similar symptoms to celiac disease, including gas, diarrhea, and abdominal pain. However, a sensitivity will generally not cause severe nutritional deficiencies, cause organ damage, or increase the risk of other health conditions.

Eliminating gluten is the only known treatment for celiac disease. Following a gluten-free diet can be achieved by knowing which foods to avoid and which are considered safe to eat.

Removing gluten from the diet can improve signs of celiac disease. However, doing so prematurely can interfere with test results and lead to an inaccurate diagnosis. That being said, never self-diagnosis celiac disease and remove gluten without a definitive answer.

Furthermore, removing gluten without professional guidance can provide a host of consequences. These particularly relate to a potential reduction of fiber, B vitamins, and other nutrients naturally sourced from most gluten-containing foods. 

Always consult with a doctor or dietitian to help formulate an individualized plan to help meet personal needs safely. Utilizing a gluten-free meal delivery service can also help ensure a safe eating plan.

Recapping Celiac Disease Symptoms in Adults

Celiac disease is a combination of an immune response paired with genetic, food, and other environmental factors. From digestive issues to iron deficiency anemia to osteoporosis, celiac disease symptoms and 

While developing celiac disease cannot be prevented, it can be managed. When one stops eating gluten after a proper diagnosis, health and quality of life are expected to be restored. 

Reference:

Rodrigo-Sáez L, Fuentes-Álvarez D, Pérez-Martínez I, et al. Differences between pediatric and adult celiac disease. Rev Esp Enferm Dig. 2011;103(5):238-244.

Sydney Lappe's Photo
Written By Sydney Lappe, MS, RDN. Published on November 07, 2012. Updated on December 20, 2021.

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