Neurologic Toll of Celiac Disease

A recent prospective cohort study (M Hadjivassiliou et al. Clin Gastroenterol Hepatol 2019; 17: 2678-86) shows an alarmingly-high level of neurologic deficits in 100 consecutive adults (mean age 43 years) with a new diagnosis of celiac disease.

Key findings:

  • Gait instability in 24%
  • Persistent sensory symptoms in 12%; peripheral neuropathy was identified in 2%
  • Frequent headaches in 42%
  • Abnormal results from Brain MRI in 60%; 25% had brain white matter lesions beyond expectation for age group and 46% had abnormal MR spectroscopy of the cerebellum
  • Anti-TG6 antibodies were detected in 40% of patients and this subgroup had significant atrophy of subcortical brain regions compared to patients who were Anti-TG6 antibody-negative

Some neurologic findings improve on a gluten-free diet (GFD).  In previous studies of patients with CD and headaches, 75-80% improved or subsided after a year of strict adherence to a GFD.

My take: This study indicates that early diagnosis of celiac disease along with strict adherence to a gluten-free diet is likely to prevent permanent neurologic disability.

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