A piece of bread is carved into a skull.Swedish researchers looked at more than 28,000 people with celiac disease and a “control” group of more than 139,000 without the disorder. The researchers found that those with celiac disease were 2.5 times more likely to be diagnosed with nerve damage, medically known as neuropathy.

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.


Our Take

“Celiac disease patients can have coexistent neurological problems like peripheral neuropathy, depression, epilepsy or even migraine headache,” said gastroenterologist Ben Kieff, MD.

However, for the overall majority of celiac disease patients, including those here in West Michigan, Dr. Kieff said, neurological symptoms are not particularly common.

Neurologist Paul Twydell, DO, agrees.

“At this time, we don’t routinely screen for it in our first tier of testing unless there’s high suspicion,” Dr. Twydell said. “I’ve only seen one case of celiac in a neuropathy patient in the past 10 years.”

Far and away, he said, the majority of acquired neuropathies in the U.S., almost 60 percent, are caused by diabetes and impaired glucose metabolism combined.

The study was published online in the journal JAMA Neurology.

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

“Although absolute risks for neuropathy are low, celiac 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.

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

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

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

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