Celiac disease is an autoimmune disorder that can cause numerous symptoms, ranging from digestive concerns to fatigue, skin issues, and nutritional deficiencies.
These symptoms are triggered by ingesting gluten — a protein found in wheat, barley, and rye. This sets off an immune response, causing inflammation and damage to your small intestine.
Remember that symptoms of celiac disease may vary widely from person to person, and some people with celiac disease may not notice any symptoms.
Still, if you experience any common symptoms associated with celiac disease, it may be a sign that you should get tested for the condition.
Here are 9 of the most common signs and symptoms of celiac disease.
Loose, watery stool is one of the first symptoms many experiences before being diagnosed with celiac disease.
According to one study, around 43% of people with celiac disease have diarrhea. This percentage is significantly lower than before the introduction of blood tests, which are now widely used to diagnose celiac disease.
Fortunately, following a gluten-free diet usually resolves many symptoms of celiac disease, including diarrhea. In fact, in one study of people with celiac disease, those who followed a gluten-free diet reported significantly less diarrhea than those who didn’t.
However, remember that there are many other possible causes of diarrhea, such as infection, food intolerances, or other intestinal issues.
Summary: Diarrhea is one of the most common symptoms of celiac disease. Following a gluten-free diet can effectively reduce and resolve diarrhea.
Bloating is another common symptom that people with celiac disease experience.
Celiac disease can cause inflammation in your digestive tract, which may result in bloating and other digestive issues.
In a small study of 85 people newly diagnosed with celiac disease, around 9% experienced bloating alongside other digestive symptoms.
Another study of 200 people with this condition showed that following a gluten-free diet significantly reduced symptoms like bloating and improved quality of life.
In some cases, gluten may cause digestive concerns like bloating, even for people who don’t have celiac disease. For instance, one study found that gluten worsened symptoms like stomach pain, bloating, and fatigue in people with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).
Aside from celiac disease, other common causes of bloating include:
- bowel obstruction
- chronic gas
- digestive disorders
Summary: People with celiac disease often experience bloating. Gluten may also cause bloating for individuals without this condition.
Excess gas is a common digestive issue experienced by people with untreated celiac disease.
According to one study of 130 children with celiac disease, approximately 47% experienced increased flatulence.
Similarly, an older study of 193 adults with celiac disease found that around 7% experienced excess gas.
However, keep in mind that there are many causes of gas. One study in 150 people complaining of increased gas found that only 2 individuals tested positive for celiac disease.
Other, more common causes of gas include:
- swallowing air
- conditions like lactose intolerance and IBS
Summary: Studies show that gas is one of the most common symptoms of untreated celiac disease, though many other conditions can also cause gas.
Decreased energy levels and fatigue are typical in people with celiac disease.
One extensive review found that people with celiac disease had high fatigue levels, which generally improved after following a gluten-free diet.
Another study found that those with celiac disease were more likely to have sleep-related issues, which may also contribute to fatigue.
Additionally, untreated celiac disease can cause damage to your small intestine, resulting in vitamin and mineral deficiencies that may also lead to decreased energy levels.
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Other potential causes of fatigue include infection, thyroid problems, depression, and anemia.
Summary: Fatigue is a common concern for people with celiac disease. Studies show that celiac disease patients are more likely to have sleep disorders and nutritional deficiencies, which may be contributing factors.
5. Weight loss
A sharp drop in weight and difficulty keeping weight on are often early signs of celiac disease. This is because your body’s ability to absorb nutrients is impaired, which may lead to malnutrition and weight loss.
One study found that nearly 29% and 26% of children with celiac disease had a low body weight and low body mass index (BMI), respectively.
In an older study of older adults with celiac disease, weight loss was one of the most common symptoms. Following treatment, symptoms were wholly resolved, and participants gained an average of 17 pounds (7.75 kg).
Similarly, another study of 42 children with this condition found that following a gluten-free diet significantly increased body weight and BMI after 1 year.
Unexplained weight loss may also be caused by diabetes, cancer, depression, or thyroid problems.
Summary: Many people with celiac disease experience unexplained weight loss. However, following a gluten-free diet typically helps people increase their body weight.
6. Iron deficiency anemia
Celiac disease may impair nutrient absorption and lead to iron deficiency anemia, a condition caused by a lack of healthy red blood cells.
Symptoms of iron deficiency anemia include:
- chest pain
According to one review, iron deficiency anemia is present in approximately 40% of people with celiac disease.
Another study of 455 children with celiac disease found that 18% were anemic. In 92% of participants, anemia resolved after they followed a gluten-free diet for an average of 1 year.
Similarly, an older study of 727 celiac patients reported that 23% were anemic. Those with anemia were twice as likely to have severe damage to the small intestine and a low bone mass caused by celiac disease.
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However, there are many other potential causes of iron deficiency anemia, including:
- a poor diet
- the long-term use of pain relievers like aspirin
- blood loss through heavy menstrual bleeding or peptic ulcers
Summary: Celiac disease impairs nutrient absorption, which may lead to iron deficiency anemia. Nevertheless, there are several other potential causes of iron deficiency anemia.
While celiac disease may cause diarrhea in some people, it may cause constipation in others.
Celiac disease damages the intestinal villi. These are tiny fingerlike projections in the small intestine, and they are responsible for absorbing nutrients.
As food travels through your digestive tract, the intestinal villi cannot fully absorb nutrients and may often absorb extra moisture from the stool instead. This leads to hardened stool that’s difficult to pass, resulting in constipation.
However, even on a strict gluten-free diet, people with celiac disease may find it challenging to avoid constipation.
This is because a gluten-free diet cuts out many high-fiber foods like grains, which may result in decreased fiber intake and reduced stool frequency.
Physical inactivity, dehydration, and a poor diet can cause constipation, too.
Summary: Celiac disease may cause your small intestine to absorb moisture from the stool, resulting in constipation. Additionally, a gluten-free diet may decrease fiber intake and cause constipation.
Celiac disease results in psychological symptoms like depression alongside physical symptoms.
An older analysis of 29 studies found that depression was more common and severe in adults with celiac disease than in the general population.
Another review of 37 studies linked celiac disease to an increased risk of depression, anxiety, and eating disorders.
Furthermore, one review noted that anxiety, depression, and fatigue were commonly reported among those with untreated celiac disease, which may negatively affect the quality of life and dietary adherence.
However, there are many other potential causes of depression, including:
- shifts in hormone levels
Summary: Celiac disease is associated with an increased risk of depression and other conditions like anxiety and eating disorders. These conditions may make it more challenging to adhere to a gluten-free diet.
9. Itchy rash
Celiac disease may cause dermatitis herpetiformis. This type of itchy, blistering skin rash occurs on your elbows, knees, or buttocks.
Approximately 17% of people with celiac disease experience this rash, and it is one of the telltale symptoms that leads to a diagnosis. It may also develop after diagnosis as a sign of poor adherence to treatment.
People who develop this skin rash rarely experience the other digestive symptoms that commonly accompany celiac disease.
Other potential causes of an itchy skin rash besides celiac disease include:
Summary: Celiac disease can cause an itchy skin rash. Most people who develop this rash don’t experience any digestive symptoms.
Celiac symptoms in children
The onset and severity of symptoms vary widely in children with celiac disease.
Some children experience symptoms shortly after consuming gluten, which typically resolves very quickly. Others may have symptoms that last several days or weeks, while others have no symptoms.
Symptoms also differ depending on age. For infants and toddlers, some of the most common symptoms include:
- impaired growth
School-age children often report symptoms like:
- unintentional weight loss or difficulty gaining weight
- stomach pain
- abdominal distension
Finally, older children and teenagers commonly experience symptoms including:
- delayed puberty
- stunted growth
- unintentional weight loss
- bone or joint pain
- frequent headaches or migraines
- skin rashes
- mouth sores
If you suspect your child may have celiac disease, you should talk with their pediatrician about getting tested to determine whether treatment is necessary.
Summary: Symptoms of celiac disease in children can vary in onset and severity, as well as based on age.
What other health concerns can accompany celiac disease?
If left untreated, celiac disease may be associated with several other health concerns, such as:
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- nutritional deficiencies
- osteoporosis, or bone loss
- gluten neuropathy, or numbness, tingling, and nerve pain
- bone, muscle, or joint pain
Additionally, celiac disease is an autoimmune disorder. This is a condition that occurs when your immune system attacks the healthy cells in your body.
Research shows that people with one autoimmune disorder have a 25% higher risk of developing others.
Other autoimmune disorders that may accompany celiac disease include:
- rheumatoid arthritis
- ulcerative colitis
- Crohn’s disease
- multiple sclerosis
- Hashimoto’s disease
- Graves’ disease
- systemic lupus erythematosus
Summary: Untreated celiac disease may increase your risk of nutritional deficiencies, infertility, and bone loss. People with one autoimmune disorder may also be at a higher risk of developing others.
How to manage symptoms of celiac disease
Celiac disease is a lifelong condition that has no cure. However, people with this condition can manage their symptoms effectively by adhering to a strict gluten-free diet.
This means that you must avoid any products containing wheat, barley, rye, or spelt, including any foods that may have been cross-contaminated, such as oats, unless labeled as gluten-free.
Foods to avoid
Here are a few other foods you should avoid unless they’re specifically labeled as gluten-free:
Foods to eat
Fortunately, there are plenty of nutritious, naturally gluten-free foods. Cutting out processed foods, mainly enjoying whole foods, and reading food labels can make it much easier to follow a gluten-free diet.
Here are some foods to eat on a healthy gluten-free diet:
- meat, poultry, and seafood
- gluten-free grains, such as quinoa, rice, buckwheat, and millet
- healthy fats
- herbs and spices
If you suspect that you may have celiac disease, consult with a doctor to get tested and determine whether a gluten-free diet is necessary.
Be sure not to begin a gluten-free diet until you are tested for celiac disease, as it may skew your test results.
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Summary: A gluten-free diet helps reduce symptoms of celiac disease. You’ll need to eliminate products containing wheat, barley, rye, and spelt, replacing them with naturally gluten-free whole foods.
Celiac disease is a severe condition that can cause many symptoms, including digestive issues, nutritional deficiencies, weight loss, and fatigue.
However, remember that symptoms may vary between people with celiac disease. While some may experience a few of the symptoms listed above, others may not have any noticeable symptoms.
If you suspect you may have celiac disease, speak with your doctor about getting tested. For those with celiac disease, following a gluten-free diet can help manage and reduce these symptoms.
Although following a gluten-free diet can be challenging at first, you can enjoy plenty of delicious foods. For a simple way to get started, check out this comprehensive list of gluten-free foods: