Celiac and UTIs

I get asked a lot of questions on social media as a dietitian specializing in celiac and one of the common ones that I get asked is can celiac cause UTIs? And the answer is complex and one that I don’t often see discussed.

I’ve only had a UTI once in my life and it was terrible. It was so painful and it was so frustrating to feel like I had to pee all the time. It made me respect the women in my life who I’d seen go to work despite having one of these infections because… I don’t know how they did it…

That said, the one experience I had was bad enough for me to empathize with anyone struggling with this. I hope this post brings you insight into what role celiac might be playing in this and I hope you find relief soon!


Table of Contents

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What is Celiac?

Before we get into if celiac disease causes UTIs, we first need to know what celiac is. Celiac is a serious autoimmune disease that occurs in genetically predisposed people where the ingestion of gluten leads to damage in the small intestine.

When people with celiac disease eat gluten (a protein found in wheat, rye, barley, and contaminated foods like oats), their body mounts an immune response that attacks the small intestine.

These attacks lead to damage to the villi, small fingerlike projections that line the small intestine, that promote nutrient absorption. When the villi get damaged, nutrients cannot be absorbed properly into the body.

This inflammatory response to gluten and related nutrient deficiencies can cause a wide variety of symptoms in people with celiac. From bloating, headaches, constipation, joint pain, bone health complications, infertility, weight gain, weight loss, and more.

This can start at any age, and occur in any body, as long as someone is eating gluten and has the celiac genes. If left untreated, celiac disease can lead to additional serious health problems.

What is Gluten?

Not only do we need to know what celiac is but we also need to know what gluten is when talking about celiac and UTIs.

Gluten is a protein found in barley, rye, contaminated oats, and wheat. It may be helpful to remember the acronym “BROW” when trying to remember what foods have gluten.

In baked goods, gluten holds things together working as a binding agent. It gives texture and chew to foods.

Most people can safely eat gluten. However, some people have gluten sensitivity or celiac disease which means they need to avoid gluten. It can cause digestive issues such as diarrhea and nausea as well as nonintestinal symptoms such as rashes, headaches, or joint pain.

What is a UTI

Finally, in order to discuss the relationship between celiac and UTIs, we need to know what a UTI is. UTI, also known as a urinary tract infection, is usually when there’s an infection in the bladder or urethra.

Symptoms of a UTI according to the Mayo Clinic include:

  • A strong urge to pee that doesn’t go away even after attempting
  • A burning feeling when you pee
  • Having to pee often but not peeing a lot
  • Pee that is cloudy
  • Signs of blood in your pee
  • Strong smelling pee
  • Pelvic pain
  • Nausea
  • Lower belly discomfort
  • Fever

If you think you have a urinary tract infection, contact your doctor ASAP.

light blue background with bold black title text "symptoms of" with bigger blue bold title text centered underneath "celiac vs. UTIs" with symptoms of celiac and UTIs listed underneath, with overlapping symptoms in black, UTI only symptoms in dark teal, and Celiac only symptoms in dark blue bulleted body text, with a picture of white toilet paper on blue toilet paper holder to the right.

Can Celiac Cause UTIs?

Now that we know what UTIs are, can celiac cause a bladder infection? There’s not a lot of data on this so I’ll present both the limited research and a basic understanding of what might be happening…

First, UTIs in people with celiac is not very well documented. I could find minimal research studies on this topic. In an old study done in 1996 on celiac in children, they found that there was a significantly higher risk of first-time UTIs in children with celiac than those without, But in a more recent study done in 2018 on children with celiac disease, they found no relationship between celiac and urinary tract infections.

That said, I am frequently approached by people struggling with frequent UTIs with celiac. With there not being enough research evidence to prove a relationship some might feel like they are struggling with frequent UTIs with celiac due to gluten exposure.

Let me explain. When you’re glutened, often people struggle with diarrhea. If you find yourself in the toilet with diarrhea more often, there’s a great risk that some of that matter might make it into the urinary tract by accident. In some cases, this risk increases depending on your specific anatomy.

In this way, you might be at higher risk for a bladder infection with celiac because there’s a great chance of bacteria being introduced with the increase in wiping. Try to minimize this by wiping front to back.

Can Gluten Affect Your Urinary Tract with Celiac?

In those with celiac disease, UTIs might not be the only impact on your urinary tract you may experience. An old 2008 study found that urinary stone risk is high in patients with untreated celiac disease (just one of many ways that unmanaged celiac is dangerous).

In this study, they found that the greater risk was related to the 120% higher oxalate and 43% lower calcium content in the urine. The good news is that once those with untreated celiac went gluten-free and stabilized, the higher risk of urinary stones decreased!

Additionally, the Interstitial Cystitis Network discusses the potential of gluten in those with celiac-triggering IC symptoms. Interstitial Cystitis is a chronic condition of the bladder causing recurring pain in the bladder and surrounding areas.

But can gluten impact your urinary tract if you don’t have celiac or a gluten-related disorder? There’s no current evidence that gluten impacts your urinary tract unless you have a gluten-related disorder like celiac.

Can Celiac Cause Bladder Issues?

In summary, it’s possible that celiac causes bladder issues in some cases. From diarrhea with celiac disease increasing the risk of bladder infections to the increased risk of urinary stones in untreated celiac.

It’s important to note that not all people with celiac disease will experience bladder problems, and not all bladder problems are related to celiac disease. If you are experiencing bladder issues, it’s essential to speak with your doctor to determine the underlying cause and develop an appropriate treatment plan.

To prevent this stay gluten-free, try to manage GI distress when it comes up, and wipe front to back. And if you think you have a UTI, see a healthcare provider ASAP!

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