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Celiac Center

Complications

What are the complications of celiac disease?

Small IntestinesPeople with celiac disease can develop a variety of health problems, and some of these are life threatening. These problems are caused by uncontrolled damage and inflammation of the small intestine, and the inability to absorb nutrients from food.

Bone Loss

Based on the severity, it is categorized as osteopenia or osteoporosis. It occurs due to the inability to absorb vitamin D and calcium from food. As the intestine heals with a gluten-free diet, absorption of vitamins will improve and bone loss can improve. People with celiac disease may require daily vitamin D and calcium supplements depending on their dietary intake. Vitamin D level is checked routinely, and those who have a vitamin D deficiency will need additional supplementation.

To measure the extent of bone loss, a DEXA scan is necessary. You may need special treatment for bone loss depending on the DEXA scan result.

Anemia

Iron, folic acid, and vitamin B 12 are essential nutrients for the production of blood cells. A damaged intestine in celiac disease cannot absorb these nutrients efficiently, resulting in anemia. Iron, folic acid, and vitamin B12 levels are checked in all patients with celiac disease, as they may need supplementation.

Refractory Celiac Disease

Rarely, the intestinal injury will continue despite a strictly gluten-free diet. People with this condition, known as refractory celiac disease, have severely damaged intestines that cannot heal. Because their intestines are not absorbing enough nutrients, they may need to receive nutrients directly into their blood stream through a vein. These patients may require special treatment with steroids or other immune system suppressing drugs.

Intestinal Lymphoma

This is a cancer of the lymph system of intestine. It is an extremely uncommon complication of celiac disease and happens more commonly in poorly controlled celiac disease. A strict gluten-free diet usually reduces the risk of small intestine lymphomas.

Infertility

Infertility related to celiac disease usually resolves with a gluten-free diet. People with celiac disease may also experience menstrual disturbances and pre-term births.

Pneumonia

Pneumonia-related deaths are more common in patients with celiac disease, as a consequence of the impaired immune function. It is recommended that those with celiac disease get the pneumococcal vaccination. Those who receive their first dose between the ages of 19-64 years will need another dose (revaccination) 5 years after the first dose. People who are 65 or older need a revaccination only if they received the first vaccine more than 5 years ago.

Learn more about Celiac Disease in our Health Information Library.

 

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