Celiac Disease Found to Be Linked to Increased Risk of Multiple Sclerosis, Nerve Damage

Patricia Silva, PhD avatar

by Patricia Silva, PhD |

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A study recently published in the journal JAMA Neurology revealed that celiac disease is linked to a significant increase in the risk of nerve damage. The study is entitled “Risk of Neuropathy Among 28,232 Patients With Biopsy-Verified Celiac Disease” and was conducted by researchers at Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons in New York, and the Swedish Karolinska Institutet and Örebro University.

Celiac disease is a hereditary, autoimmune disorder of the small intestine characterized by pain, discomfort, chronic constipation and diarrhea, anemia and fatigue. It is a common disease with an estimated prevalence of 1% in the general population. The disease is caused by a reaction to gluten (a protein found in wheat, rye and barley), where the body mounts an immune response that attacks the small intestine, compromising proper nutrient absorption.

Interestingly, it has been previously reported that celiac disease is associated with nerve damage, also known as neuropathy, and to an increased risk of nerve-related disorders like multiple sclerosis (MS), a chronic, progressive neurodegenerative disease that results from the attack to the nervous system by the body’s own immune system, causing inflammation and irreversible neurological disability.

In the study, researchers investigated the risk for neuropathy development in a Swedish nationwide population-based sample of patients with small-intestine biopsies performed between June 1969 and February 2008 who had confirmed celiac disease. In total, 28,232 patients with celiac disease and 139,473 matched controls in age and sex were analyzed.

Researchers found that 198 individuals with celiac disease in the cohort were later diagnosed with neuropathy (0.7%) in comparison to 359 cases in the control group (0.3%). The team found that the absolute risk of developing neuropathy was of 64 per 100,000 person-years among celiac disease patients and of 15 per 100,000 person-years in the control group, and estimated that celiac disease patients were around 2.5 times more likely to receive a later diagnosis of neuropathy than individuals without the disease. In terms of gender, no differences were found in neuropathy risk between men and women with celiac disease.

“We found an increased risk of neuropathy in patients with CD [celiac disease] that persists after CD diagnosis. Although absolute risks for neuropathy are low, CD is a potentially treatable condition with a young age of onset. Our findings suggest that screening could be beneficial in patients with neuropathy,” stated the authors.

The research team concluded that celiac disease is linked to a 2.5-fold increased risk of neuropathy, and suggest that screening for celiac disease should be performed in patients with neuropathy. This suggestion is also valid for patients with multiple sclerosis.

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