Digestive Health

Updated 22 May 2015

Coeliac disease linked to nerve damage

People with coeliac disease are at high risk of nerve damage, and should be screened, according to researchers.


People with the digestive disorder coeliac disease are at increased risk for nerve damage, a new study suggests.

Nerve damage

Swedish researchers looked at more than 28,000 people with coeliac disease and a "control" group of more than 139,000 without the disorder.

The researchers found that those with coeliac disease were 2.5 times more likely to be diagnosed with nerve damage, medically known as neuropathy.

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However, the risk of nerve damage among the study patients was still low and the association seen in the study did not prove a cause-and-effect relationship.

The study was published in the journal JAMA Neurology.

Increased risk of neuropathy

"We found an increased risk of neuropathy in patients with coeliac disease that persists after coeliac disease diagnosis," Dr. Jonas Ludvigsson, of the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, and colleagues wrote.

"Although absolute risks for neuropathy are low, coeliac disease is a potentially treatable condition with a young age of onset. Our findings suggest that screening could be beneficial in patients with neuropathy," the researchers concluded.

Read: Treating digestive disorders

Rates of neuropathy were 0.7 percent among people with coeliac disease and 0.3 percent in the control group, the authors said in a journal news release.

Among people with coeliac disease, the risk of nerve damage was the same for women and men, the findings showed.

When people with coeliac disease eat gluten, which is a protein found in wheat, rye and barley, they develop problems in their small intestine.

Coeliac disease affects an estimated 1 percent of people in the general population, according to the study authors. A link between coeliac disease and nerve damage was first reported about 50 years ago, they said.

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Image: Woman with nerve pain from Shutterstock

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Digestive Health Expert

Dr. Estelle Wilken is a Senior Specialist in Internal Medicine and Gastroenterology at Tygerberg Hospital. She obtained her MBChB in 1976, her MMed (Int) in 1991 and her gastroenterology registration in 1995.

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