Autoimmune diseases linked to celiac disease include Type 1 Diabetes, multiple sclerosis, Hashimoto’s, autoimmune hepatitis, Addison’s disease, arthritis, Sjögren’s syndrome, and more.
With so many clients coming to me battling other autoimmune diseases or concerned about developting another autoimmune disease, I thought it fitting to talk about them. Below we will talk about the risks of these autoimmune diseases, their symptoms, testing, and how to prevent them.
Can celiac lead to other autoimmune diseases? Yes. If untreated celiac can lead to liver problems, nutrient deficiencies, malnutrition, and more. That being said, just having celiac also puts you at risk for another autoimmune disease.
Not only is celiac disease considered to be an autoimmune disease but many other autoimmune diseases are associated with celiac. In fact, the risk of developing another autoimmune disease is greater if you already have one.
Additionally, research has shown that depending on when you’re diagnosed with celiac, you have a higher risk of developing another autoimmune disease. The risk increases with age with the highest chances of 34% being if you’re diagnosed over the age of 20.
With there being a lot of overlap between autoimmune diseases, it’s important to be aware of the risks so you can be empowered to get help if you notice warning signs of other autoimmune diseases developing.
As mentioned earlier, there are a lot of autoimmune diseases associated with celiac disease. Autoimmune diseases like Type 1 Diabetes, multiple sclerosis, Hashimoto’s, arthritis, autoimmune hepatitis, EoE, and more. Let’s dive into each autoimmune disease celiacs are at greater risk for below.
There are many autoimmune diseases linked to celiac disease. The autoimmune disease with the highest prevalence in people with celiac disease is Type 1 Diabetes. Documented to be at an increased risk ~3 to 16%, people with celiac should be aware of the overlap between the two diseases.
However, this is one of the autoimmune diseases linked to celiac that is more likely to develop in younger celiacs. More specifically the risk is associated with people with Type 1 developing celiac not the other way around.
With type 1 diabetes, the body starts attacking the pancreas until it stops functioning altogether. This means hormones to regulate blood sugar are not being released making the body unable to access a necessary form of energy. Because of this, people with Type 1 Diabetes need to act as their own pancreas by monitoring their blood sugars and eating or dosing themselves with insulin as needed.
Signs you have Type 1 Diabetes per the Mayo Clinic Include:
Diagnostic tests include:
Another one of the autoimmune diseases linked to celiac disease is autoimmune hepatitis. Autoimmune hepatitis is increasingly prevalent in people with celiac. With some studies saying the increased risk is as high as 15%, others say it’s only around 6%.
Autoimmune hepatitis is when your body’s immune system starts attacking your liver. This attack leads to inflammation in your liver which if untreated, can lead to serious liver diseases like cirrhosis and liver failure.
The treatment for Autoimmune Hepatitis is immune system suppressing drugs. In some cases, a liver transplant is needed.
Signs of Autoimmune Hepatitis include:
Diagnostic Tests for AH Per NIDDK:
Furthermore, Sjogren’s syndrome is another autoimmune disease linked to celiac. With the risk increased risk between 2 and 15% in celiacs, Sjogren’s syndrome should not be ignored. With this syndrome, the body’s immune system attacks cells producing saliva and tears. The main symptoms thus are dry mouth and eyes.
Treatment involves a drug regimen prescribed by your doctor. For info check out this website.
One of the other autoimmune diseases linked to celiac is Multiple Sclerosis (MS). If you have celiac you could be at higher risk for multiple sclerosis. And this is proven by research which shows a whopping 11% increased risk.
Multiple sclerosis (MS) is an autoimmune disease featuring injury to the central nervous system. This injury causes nerves to send misinformation to your brain triggering a variety of symptoms.
Signs of MS per John Hopkins Medicine include:
Diagnosis of MS per John Hopkins Medicine includes:
Additionally, Chron’s disease is one of the other autoimmune diseases linked to celiac. It’s an irritable bowel disease with some sources citing an increased risk of 10% in celiacs. This disease should remain on the radar in case symptoms don’t improve.
Chron’s can impact any part of the digestive system from the mouth to the anus. Symptoms depend on what part of the digestive system is experiencing an autoimmune flare.
This leads us to the symptoms of chron’s disease of which many overlap with celiac. Symptoms include:
Overlapping symptoms of Chron’s and Celiac per the Celiac Disease Foundation include:
Diagnostic Testing includes:
And other tests. You can learn more on the NIDDK website.
Autoimmune arthritis conditions are linked to celiac disease. Arthritis is not one single disease but a way to refer to stiffness, inflammation, and pain in the joints. Unfortunately, joint pain is one of the many 300+ reported symptoms of celiac disease. On top of that, Beyond Celiac reports that celiacs are 4 times more likely to have signs of certain types of arthritis.
Symptoms of arthritis primarily include inflammation, stiffness, and pain in joints. In celiacs, arthritis has been most commonly reported in the knees and the Achilles tendon (between the calf and heel).
Depending on the type of arthritis suspected, imaging or lab tests may be used to diagnose it. Rheumatologists are typically the doctors who diagnose it. Thus, if you are worried about having arthritis along with celiac, you may want to ask your doctor for a referral.
Another one of the high risk autoimmune diseases linked to celiac is Addison’s disease. Per the Celiac Disease Foundation, people with celiac are at a 6% higher risk for Addison’s disease. Addison’s disease is an endocrine disease which means it impacts hormones in your body. More specifically, the adrenal glands don’t make enough cortisol and often aldosterone.
Both hormones are essential to the stress response (think responding to sickness) and blood pressure. This can be a particularly nasty combination to have. As both have a risk for malabsorption and gastrointestinal symptoms, and steroid absorption used to treat Addison’s can be altered due to intestinal damage from celiac.
Symptoms of Addison’s disease per the Mayo Clinic include:
Testing for Addison’s disease includes blood tests, ACTH stimulation tests (measures how much ACTH is released before and after stimulation), and imaging. The blood tests are to measure sodium, potassium, cortisol, and ACTH (a hormone that stimulates your adrenal glands to make hormones). They can also measure antibodies associated with Addison’s. Imaging can be done to assess for abnormalities in your adrenal glands and pituitary glands. Read more about testing here.
Additionally, Hashimoto’s is another commonly linked autoimmune disease with celiac. In fact, Beyondceliac.org reports that there is a 4x greater chance that someone with celiac will have a thyroid disease like Hashimoto’s. In fact, one study, albeit from 2003, found that half of the newly diagnosed celiacs also had a thyroid condition.
Hashimoto’s is an autoimmune disease where the body attacks and destroys the thyroid. The main problem is that the treatment for Hashimoto’s typically involves medications where absorption can be impaired if you have celiac, requiring a higher dose.
Symptoms of Hashimoto’s per the Mayo Clinic include:
Diagnosis of Hashimoto’s involves hormone tests to assess the activity of your thyroid. Additionally, it includes tests of antibodies associated with Hashimoto’s (TPO antibodies) – however this antibody test isn’t always accurate for everyone.
Lastly, Eosinophilic Esophagitis (EoE) is another autoimmune disease linked to celiac. The risk of Celiac and Eosinophilic Esophagitis is high, with some studies reporting at least a 26% higher risk than non-celiacs. A relatively newly recognized disease, EoE was first identified in the 90s. Symptoms of EoE per the Mayo Clinic include:
Diagnosis involves an endoscopy that goes all the way down to your duodenum to evaluate the esophagus, biopsy it, and consider other causes for symptoms. If you’re being tested for EoE make sure they biopsy your esophagus, 10-20% of EoE patients can have normal endoscopes but clinically relevant biopsy results.
Now that we’ve identified the autoimmune diseases linked to celiac, let’s talk about your immune system status with celiac. If you are healed and recovered, no, celiac disease does not make you immunocompromised. If you are still recovering from or struggling with malnutrition, weight loss, non-responsive celiac, or refractory celiac, you may be immunocompromised. The same goes for if you have recently been exposed to gluten.
The logic is that your immune system is likely not functioning at its prime if it’s busy overreacting to gluten. In addition, if you’re malnourished, undereating, or underweight, your body likely doesn’t have the energy to fight off a serious infection.
So short answer: if your celiac disease is well-managed then no, you are not immunocompromised. If you are still healing or exposed to gluten, then you may be immunocompromised.
If you’re concerned about the status of your immune system, be sure to consult with your doctor.
Now that I’ve discussed common autoimmune diseases linked to celiac disease, preventing getting another autoimmune disease might be at the top of your mind. The statistic that you are 34% more likely to get another autoimmune disease if you’re diagnosed over the age of 20 is scary. Let me leave you with a few thoughts on autoimmune disease prevention.
First, you can do everything “right” to prevent another autoimmune disease and still end up with one. So if there’s anything I want you to get from this, it’s that you did not cause your celiac disease, and you did not cause any other autoimmune disease you have or may develop.
Autoimmune diseases involve many factors beyond our control. Factors like: genetics, chance life-events, hormonal activity, unknown environmental factors, and more. The point is, even if we control what we can, an autoimmune disease can still develop.
Second, for celiac, the best thing to keep your immune system away from the overreactive path of autoimmune diseases is to do your best to stay gluten-free. And no, one accident is not going to be the deciding factor on developing an autoimmune disease. However, purposely putting your body in an inflammatory state by eating gluten is not going to help.
Third, the best way to support your health is by doing things from a place of compassion, not fear. So instead of “what can I do to prevent autoimmune disease”, try “what can I do to feel good in my body?”. Typically these things are often associated with disease prevention in general. Notice I said associated – because you can still do all the “right” things and again, end up with an autoimmune disease.
The above reminders in mind, there are some things you can do to prevent associated autoimmune diseases with celiac disease. In my clients, for example, there are some overarching themes I find in their habits that result in them feeling better. These themes include:
Want help with these things? I am trained to help people with celiac disease address their relationship with food, nourish themselves appropriately, address body image and more. I’d love to help you! Click the button below to work with me!
Disclaimer: like every other post on my website, this post is not to take the place of individualized care from your healthcare team. If you are concerned about you health, be sure to consult your doctor to get your concerns addressed.