Long-Term Health Risks of Untreated Celiac Disease
Celiac disease is a chronic autoimmune disease that is challenging to diagnose. Although gastrointestinal symptoms like chronic diarrhea, bloating, and abdominal pain are common, they are not present in every case. Today, there are more than 200 documented symptoms of celiac disease.
Although acute symptoms of celiac disease would mostly be related to gastrointestinal disturbances, however, long-term consequences are more due to malnutrition and chronic inflammation. A celiac patient may have a deficiency of vitamins, minerals, weight loss, and so on. Since gut health is highly related to cognition, untreated celiac may have grave consequences for mental health.
Here are some of the most common long-term consequences of untreated celiac disease:
Anemia due to iron deficiency
Long-term intestinal disturbances often lead to malabsorption of iron and iron deficiency anemia. Iron deficiency anemia may further worsen the symptoms of celiac disease. In some cases, anemia could be the leading symptom of celiac. Iron deficiency anemia may occur due to a poor absorption of iron and a chronic loss of blood in the intestinal tract. Further, intestinal damage in celiac disease leads to reduced production of proteins that are essential for iron intake by the intestine.
Iron is vital for the production of red blood cells and hemoglobin. Anemia causes chronic fatigue, emotional distress, and physical weakness, all of which are frequent symptoms of celiac disease, especially since it affects almost one-third of patients.
Osteoporosis or osteopenia
Thinning or weakening of bones due to mineralization is common in celiac disease. In some atypical cases, it may be the sole symptom of the disease. Individuals above the age of 50 are at a much higher risk of developing osteoporosis; this risk is much higher in post-menopausal women. Individuals with osteoporosis are at higher risk for fracturing their spine, hip, and arms.
The primary reason for the higher prevalence of osteoporosis in celiac disease is a deficiency of calcium and other nutrients because of the direct damage to the intestinal surface. Those taking drugs like steroids are at even greater risk of bone demineralization. Fortunately, a timely diagnosis and switching to a gluten-free diet is extremely beneficial in reversing many of the adverse effects of the disease.
Read on to learn about the other long-term consequences of untreated celiac disease.