The Celiac Disease Foundation notes this disorder can be difficult to diagnose because the symptoms aren't always gastrointestinal in nature and can often mimic other bowel problems.
According to the National Foundation for Celiac Awareness, 83 percent of people with celiac disease have been misdiagnosed or undiagnosed because the symptoms can be so easy to misinterpret.
According to the Mayo Clinic, one of the primary effects of untreated celiac disease is malabsorption of nutrients. This occurs as continued gluten intake causes damage to intestinal villi, which are one of the body's main pathways to absorb nutrients from foods.
Malabsorption leads to malnutrition, which may manifest in multiple ways. Conditions and symptoms that may arise from malabsorption and potentially indicate celiac disease include:
- Iron deficiency anemia
- Osteoporosis or osteopenia, particularly in someone young
- Vitamin K deficiency and poor blood clotting
- Delayed growth in children
- Hair loss
- Bruising easily
- Nose bleeds
- Muscle aches, pains, and cramps
- Mouth ulcers
- Irregular menstruation
A University of Naples study examined the role of fatigue in Celiac Disease. The study noted that fatigue is a very common finding in people with celiac disease not on a gluten-free diet; however, a gluten-free diet caused the fatigue to diminish.
The National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse notes unexplained weight loss is a common symptom of celiac disease, particularly in children. It can occur because the body is unable to take in the nutrients it needs from foods.
In children, stunted growth is present. In infants, failure to thrive occurs. However, a study published in Gastroenterology found that obesity is far more prevalent in children with celiac disease than was once believed. Therefore, while weight loss may be a sign of celiac disease, it shouldn't be ruled out in overweight or obese people.
Because the body is unable to digest foods properly, many with celiac disease will vomit, notes Dr. Jay Marks. The vomiting may baffle people with celiac disease because they don't have other signs of gastrointestinal illness such as fever.
Celiac.com notes that joint pain and arthritis are a common symptom of untreated celiac disease. Celiac disease is an autoimmune disease that causes inflammation in the body when gluten is consumed. This inflammation can manifest as painful joints or even arthritis.
A 2003 study published in the American Journal of Gastroenterology found that people with migraine headaches may have celiac disease, as well. The study also noted that a gluten-free diet diminished headaches in patients with migraines caused by celiac disease.
WebMD notes celiac disease can cause a host of gastrointestinal symptoms in children and adults. These symptoms may include:
- Chronic diarrhea
- Chronic constipation
- Pain and bloating in the abdomen
Celiac disease can also cause alternating bouts of diarrhea and constipation, and it is often misdiagnosed as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).
Numbness and Tingling
People with celiac disease may experience a condition known as peripheral neuropathy, which manifests as a tingling or numbness in the hands and feet. The Center for Peripheral Neuropathy notes 10 percent of people with celiac disease also have some type of a neurological condition, and that peripheral neuropathy often occurs before gastrointestinal symptoms kick in as celiac disease.
According to the US Department of Health and Human Services, a skin condition called dermatitis herpetiformis (DH) is present in about 15 to 25 percent of people with celiac disease. DH symptoms include:
- Severe itching
- Blistering rash
- Lesions that cluster in small groups
- Lesions or blisters near the elbows, hands, knees, and buttocks
This occurs when a person with celiac disease consumes gluten because the body releases immunoglobulin A (IgA) antibodies that cluster under skin surfaces causing breakouts.
Associated Health Problems
The National Institutes of Health cautions that celiac disease may be present with an array of other autoimmune diseases. While these illnesses can exist without celiac disease, they often occur in clusters. Illnesses include:
- Addison's disease
- Type 1 (juvenile) diabetes
- Rheumatoid arthritis
- Hashimoto's thyroiditis
- Grave's disease
- Sjögren's syndrome
- Autoimmune liver diseases
The National Foundation for Celiac Awareness points to several studies that document a link between celiac disease and infertility.
One of the studies cited noted that infertility was four times higher in women with celiac disease, while another found a rate of celiac disease of 4.1 percent among infertile women.
In some cases, celiac disease is completely asymptomatic, according to a study cited on Celiac.com. The study concluded that people with autoimmune diseases should be tested for celiac disease, regardless of whether they have symptoms.
When celiac disease presents without symptoms, it is often detected in testing. Even without symptoms, however, untreated celiac disease can result in long-term health consequences, so if you have any reason to suspect you have celiac disease (such as heredity), ask your doctor to test you.
Managing Your Symptoms
The best way to manage your symptoms is to speak to your physician and follow a gluten-free diet. In most cases, symptoms diminish with such a diet. It's important for symptom management that you avoid even trace amounts of gluten in order to allow your body to heal.