Participants with celiac disease were found to be around 2.5 times more likely to receive a later diagnosis of neuropathy than those without celiac disease.
Celiac disease is a condition in which the immune system attacks and damages the villi of the small intestine upon the consumption of gluten - a protein found in wheat, barley and rye. The body is unable to effectively absorb nutrients when the villi are damaged, which can lead to malnutrition.
Celiac disease can affect everyone differently, meaning it can be tricky to diagnose. However, digestive symptoms - such as diarrhea, vomiting, abdominal bloating and pain and weight loss - are most common in children, while adults with the condition are more likely to experience fatigue, bone or joint pain, arthritis or other non-digestive symptoms.
It is estimated that around 1% of the US population - the equivalent to 1 in 133 Americans - have celiac disease, though it is thought around 83% of these individuals are undiagnosed or misdiagnosed with other illnesses.
The association between celiac disease and neuropathy, or nerve damage, is not new. According to the researchers of this latest study, including Dr. Jonas F. Ludvigsson of the Karolinska Institutet in Stockholm, Sweden, it was first identified almost 50 years ago.
Untreated celiac disease has also been linked to increased risk of nerve-related conditions, such as multiple sclerosis (MS).
For their study, Dr. Ludvigsson and colleagues set out to determine the absolute and relative risk of neuropathy among a nationwide population-based sample of patients with a confirmed diagnosis of celiac disease.
2.5-fold increased neuropathy risk for patients with celiac disease
The study included 28,232 individuals from Sweden whose celiac disease was confirmed with small-intestine biopsies, alongside 139,473 age- and sex-matched controls.
The researchers identified 198 (0.7%) participants with celiac disease who were later diagnosed with neuropathy, while neuropathy was later diagnosed in 359 (0.3%) of control participants.
The team calculated that overall, participants with celiac disease were around 2.5 times more likely to receive a later diagnosis of neuropathy than those without celiac disease.
The absolute risk of developing neuropathy was estimated to be 64 per 100,000 person-years among participants with celiac disease, while the absolute risk of neuropathy was estimated at 15 per 100,000 person-years among participants free of celiac disease.
Commenting on their findings, the researchers say:
"We found an increased risk of neuropathy in patients with celiac disease that persists after celiac disease diagnosis. Although absolute risks for neuropathy are low, celiac disease is a potentially treatable condition with a young age of onset."
The team adds that the study indicates patients with neuropathy should be screened for celiac disease.
In November 2014, Medical News Today reported on a study suggesting that some non-gluten wheat proteins may trigger celiac disease.
Published in the Journal of Proteome Research, the study revealed that non-gluten proteins including serpins and purinins triggered a greater immune reaction among patients with celiac disease and dermatitis herpetiformis - a rash associated with the disease - than among those without such conditions.