Celiac disease has numerous symptoms. According to some experts, there are about 300 possible symptoms of the disease.
Different people will experience the disease in different ways, because the symptoms vary greatly from one person to the next.
Often, symptoms of celiac disease are confused with other disorders, such as irritable bowel syndrome and lactose intolerance.
Symptoms for Children
Infants and children with celiac disease tend to have digestive problems. Common symptoms for infants and children include:
Decreased appetite and failure to gain weight
Chronic diarrhea, which can be bloody
Abdominal bloating and pain
Children may also show signs of malnourishment. That’s because the disease prevents the body from absorbing essential nutrients. The stomach may expand, while the thighs become thin and the buttocks flat.
For teens with celiac disease, symptoms may not occur until they are triggered by something stressful, such as:
Leaving home for college
Suffering an injury or illness
Common symptoms for teenagers include:
Abdominal pain and bloating
Dermatitis herpetiformis (itchy skin rash that looks like eczema or poison ivy)
Symptoms for Adults
In adults with celiac disease, the inability of the body to absorb a sufficient amount of calcium to keep bones strong often leads to osteoporosis.
Anemia, or low red blood cell count from iron deficiency, is another common problem caused by celiac disease.
Infertility and miscarriages are also potential complications of the disease.
Adults often have fewer gastrointestinal symptoms of celiac disease. Diarrhea, for example, affects only one-third of adults with the disease.
Common symptoms for adults include:
Bone or joint pain
Depression or anxiety
Bone loss or osteoporosis
Tingling numbness in hands and feet
Erratic menstrual periods
Factors Influencing Symptoms
Several factors may influence the symptoms that an individual patient has, including:
How long the patient was breastfed
Age of patient when gluten was introduced to the diet
How much damage the disease has done to the intestine before it was diagnosed
Another factor is how much gluten the patient’s diet contained. Gluten is a type of protein. Foods that contain gluten have ingredients that include:
Some patients will not have any symptoms of the disease, because their intestine is still able to absorb a sufficient amount of nutrients to prevent them.
Nevertheless, the disease will still take its toll. It should be treated as early as possible to avoid possible long-term effects of the disease, such as:
Cancers of the intestine (in rare cases)
The importance of recognizing symptoms early — and beginning a gluten-free diet — is hard to overstate.
In children and teens, the disease can stunt growth and delay or shorten puberty. Hair loss and dental problems may also occur among young people who continue to eat gluten.