People with one autoimmune condition are at risk of developing another. A person can even have lupus and celiac disease together, although this is relatively rare.

Lupus and celiac disease are chronic autoimmune diseases, which means they occur when the body mistakenly attacks its own healthy tissues.

Autoimmune diseases affect more than 24 million people in the United States. Experts estimate lupus and celiac disease affect about 1.5 million and 2 million individuals in the U.S., respectively.

According to the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, autoimmune diseases are affecting more people, but scientists are not certain why. Research suggests that various factors, including stress and climate change, may be contributing to the increase in autoimmune disease cases.

In systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE), the most common type of lupus, the immune system can attack any part of the body, causing symptoms in different organs. However, with celiac disease, damage occurs in the small intestine as a result of ingesting gluten, though celiac disease may also cause symptoms in other parts of the body.

This article explores lupus and celiac disease by discussing if someone can have both conditions and the symptoms they may develop. In addition, it explores some diet tips for people with both conditions and when to speak with a doctor.

Two medical professionals speaking with each other through a pharmacy counter window 1Share on Pinterest
eyesfoto/Getty Images

The Celiac Disease Foundation explains that people with one autoimmune disorder are prone to developing another. The older someone is when a doctor diagnoses them with celiac disease, the greater the risk of them developing another autoimmune condition.

Lupus is an autoimmune condition that someone with celiac disease can develop. The Celiac Disease Foundation notes that although there is an overlap between lupus and celiac disease, scientists have not established a specific cause or correlation between the two conditions.

A small 2021 study tested 130 patients with SLE for celiac disease. Of the total study group, 40% had gastrointestinal symptoms. The researchers diagnosed 3% with celiac disease using biopsies and their response to a gluten-free diet. This celiac disease prevalence is five times higher than the prevalence within the general population.

However, the authors of a 2021 case study highlighted that overlapping symptoms may make diagnosis challenging for doctors and that having SLE and celiac disease at the same time is rare.

Research suggests there is an overlap in clinical and laboratory findings between stand-alone SLE and celiac disease. This makes the judgment of doctors extremely important when suspecting someone has both conditions. Gastrointestinal symptoms of SLE can be wide-ranging and difficult to distinguish from celiac disease.

Gastrointestinal symptoms that may be present in both SLE and celiac disease include:

In someone with celiac disease, there may be symptoms in other parts of the body that could indicate SLE. These may include:

The list above is not exhaustive, and people may experience other symptoms of SLE.

Doctors typically evaluate a person’s symptoms and use blood tests and biopsies to diagnose celiac disease. Doctors or rheumatologists may diagnose SLE using various tools such as physical examinations, symptom assessments and medical history, X-rays, and laboratory tests.

People who have celiac disease should avoid gluten. Gluten occurs naturally in certain grains, such as wheat and barley, and any foods containing these grains, such as pasta and bread. Additionally, it may be present in some processed and packaged foods.

A doctor or dietitian can advise someone with celiac disease on what they can eat. They should also check food packaging and restaurant menus for ingredients containing gluten.

No specific diet for lupus exists, but experts advise eating various nutrient-dense whole foods.

Therefore, for someone with both SLE and celiac disease, the following naturally gluten-free whole foods may be suitable toinclude in their diet:

A healthcare professional may recommend that someone with SLE and celiac disease limits:

However, people should speak with a doctor or dietitian to help determine which foods may be best for them to include or avoid in their diet.

If someone with an autoimmune disease has new or concerning symptoms, they should contact their doctor, who can evaluate their condition and recommend an appropriate treatment.

A doctor or dietitian can also help someone plan a nutritious and safe diet that does not worsen symptoms and lead to further complications.

The following are commonly asked questions about celiac disease and lupus.

What are the five stages of celiac disease?

According to the Celiac Disease Foundation, healthcare professionals can categorize celiac disease using the Marsh classification system. Initially, there were five stages ranging from 0 to 4, where stage 3 indicated celiac disease. However, the system has since been simplified into three stages.

In Grade A, or Type 1, there are increased levels of a type of white blood cell called intraepithelial lymphocytes, but there is no villous atrophy. Villous atrophy occurs when the villi in the intestines erode and leave a nearly flat surface. In Grade B1, or Type 2, the villi is still present but is shortened. In Grade B2, or Type 3, there is complete villous atrophy.

What are four symptoms of celiac disease?

There are over 200 known symptoms of celiac disease, and they can affect the digestive system and other parts of the body. Some digestive symptoms include bloating, chronic diarrhea, constipation, gas, abdominal pain, nausea, and vomiting.

A person may also be lactose intolerant or pass loose, bulky, bad-smelling, and greasy stools.

What is the autoimmune response in celiac?

When a person with celiac disease consumes gluten, the body produces antibodies as an immune response. These antibodies attack the small intestine and damage the villi that line the small intestine. The villi are responsible for nutrient absorption.

Can celiac disease turn into lupus?

Celiac disease does not turn into lupus. Although there is an overlap between celiac disease and lupus, researchers have not established a specific causation or correlation between the two conditions.

While it is possible to have both lupus and celiac disease together, this is a rare occurrence. Lupus can affect any system or organ in the body, including the digestive system. Therefore, it can be challenging for doctors to diagnose celiac disease in someone with lupus.

In an individual with existing celiac disease, symptoms in other parts of the body may indicate that lupus is developing.

A nutritious diet for someone with lupus and celiac disease may consist of nutrient-dense whole foods that do not contain gluten. People should speak with a healthcare professional for individual advice about diet and nutrition.