Neurological Symptoms of Celiac Disease

picture of teenage brain

The list of symptoms related to celiac disease covers the entire body. While gastrointestinal symptoms are often at the forefront, the nervous system can also be affected by the disease.

But many patients with neurological symptoms and their doctors don’t make the connection.

“There is a lack of general awareness of the neurological manifestations of celiac disease among patients as well as physicians,” explains Norman Latov, M.D., Ph.D., a professor of neurology and neuroscience and the director of the Peripheral Neuropathy Clinical and Research Center at Weill Cornell Medical College.

“Adult patients often present with neurologic symptoms in the absence of gastrointestinal symptoms, so celiac disease may not come to mind,” according to Latov, who has a clinical and research interest in peripheral neuropathy and has done celiac disease research.

Celiac DiseaseSmall fiber neuropathy is the common symptom involving the nervous system. “It typically presents with numbness, tingling or painful burning, stinging or electric-shock like sensations, usually in the arms or legs, but sometimes [in] the torso or face,” Latov says. Small fiber neuropathy can also cause dizziness or feeling faint when standing up, sexual dysfunction, abnormal sweating, bladder symptoms, hair loss or skin changes.

General lack of familiarity with small fiber neuropathy complicates the picture for patients with undiagnosed celiac disease. Their symptoms are often dismissed or misdiagnosed as fibromyalgia, so the association with celiac disease may be missed, according to Latov.

And small fiber neuropathy is only one of the neurological symptoms of celiac disease. “Less-common neurological conditions include cerebellar ataxia with unsteadiness or incoordination, seizures or neuropsychiatric disorders,” he says. Headaches are another potential symptom, but their prevalence adds a layer of complexity when it comes to diagnosis. “Headaches are common in the general population, however, so that it’s difficult to know whether gluten is the cause or only an aggravating factor,” Latov says.

The presence of neurological symptoms raises questions about whether there is a connection between the brain and the gut.

 “As in the gut, the neurological manifestations are also thought to also be due to inflammation,” Latov notes. Currently there are two theories on why neurological symptoms develop. In both, Latov says, “stimulation of the immune system by gluten in the diet would increase the inflammation in both the gut and nervous system.”

The good news is neurologists are beginning to become more aware of this brain-gut connection. “It is improving but very slowly,” Latov says, noting education of both patients and doctors is important. “Perhaps with greater awareness, neurologists will play a larger role in the diagnosis of celiac disease.”

—Susan Cohen

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14 thoughts on “Neurological Symptoms of Celiac Disease”

  1. My daughter has neurological issues and just had a brain scan and MRI the neuro saw nothing. Only said maybe my daughter needs a psyc evaluation. My daughters heart rate goes up when she stands now, she dizzy, her legs are jello and falls. All in tbe last month.
    Who oe where can i take my daughter

    1. SO HAPPY to see more articles and research coming out and focusing on this area. I have cerebellar ataxia/gluten ataxia and due to years going undiagnosed- severe add, narcolepsy, abnormal MRI, executive dysfunction, ect. I had many lab tests done about a year ago (after years of spiraling downward to the point where I couldn’t work or function at all- at age 27). My labs came back positive for the tTg-6 antibody – which was, finally, something that made some sense. My MRI’s in the past have shown mild cerebellar and parietal lobe atrophy and blood work showed gluten intolerance (among several other food allergies and intolerances) as well as leaky gut markers. There is such a strong gut-brain connection… But I need researchers and doctors to help me. There isn’t enough out there yet to get doctors on board and get a solid plan of attack to help others like myself get back to health because there isn’t a solid understanding yet. And not knowing if this is primary or secondary is always a concern and an area of unknown for my neurologists. I do eat a very restrictive diet and have done 2 rounds of supplements for detox and inflammation, 9 months of sensory-motor and cognitive retraining therapy… I’m trying everything (even taking months off of work to reduce stress and focus solely on health). We HAVE to spread the word about this so people don’t go years undiagnosed and end up with irreversible damage like myself.

      1. Gluten is also in rye, barley (and oats have a similar protein so they may not be suitable for people with Coelic Disease – there is a oats challenge – I don’t know the procedure) The amount of grains in general food is huge, including some sauces and salad dressings.
        Malt vinegar – the malt is from barley.
        Cornflour – some is actually wheaten cornflour – made from wheat.
        There is gluten in some chocolates and other confectionery.
        That is just…..a few from a lost of many products. You also have to check for cross contamination

    2. Find a good Functional Medicine practitioner in your area, Tam. If you can find a Chiropractic Neurologist who is also trained in Functional Medicine, all the better. I would be happy to help you connect with someone.

    3. Take her to a heart specialist as I am a coeliac and I had similar symptoms and I also have an extra electrical pathway to my heart and when it kicks in I have a very rapid heart rate ,jelly legs,have to lay down.

    4. Find a neurological chiropractor who uses Cyrex Laboratoies or have Cyrex Labs find one in your area.
      look at their website there is much more comprehensive gluten test than main stream insurance companies.

      Go 100% Gluten free.

      You don’t need to be eating gluten for cyrex lab blood draw. Look at array 1-20

  2. Forgot to add- all neurological issues with me- no GI issues, thus why no one ever thought to look down the celiac route. My symptoms include: Oculomotor issues (nystagmus, issues with saccades, VOR, convergence disorder, ect), cerebellar ataxia (left side), gait instability, poor proprioception, peripheral neuropathy, Raynauds, livedo reticularis, KP… Very interesting.

    1. wow!!!! this is interesting!!! my son was diagnosed with celiac a year ago. i found out i have the gene. since the family went all gluten free they weren’t able to test me. but the interesting thing is for the last 7 years i have been have weird ocular issues… like double vision. almost like a paralysis in the one eye limited range of motion. they’ve been testing me for an autoimmune disease called myasthenia gravis. my symptoms just don’t match up though. i wonder if i have undiagnosed celiac that caused this

  3. That is possibly autonomic dysfunction. Take her to see a Neurologist familiar with CIDP and Celiac Disease. I was blessed to be sent to Dr. Latov about a decade ago and he finally diagnosed my CIDP which caused significant small fiber neuropathy and some autonomic dysfunction which is atypical for CIDP even. A teaching hospital is not always the best. If you can get to NYC, go there.

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