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.

Related blog posts:

Something You Probably Have Not Seen with Celiac Disease and Headaches

An “image of the month” in the NEJM shows the association between celiac disease and occipital calcifications in a 24 year-old with a 10 year history of headaches, here’s the link: 

The course and explanation: Treatment with a gluten-free diet, folic acid supplementation, and carbamazepine was initiated, and the patient’s condition improved, with remission of all symptoms. The combination of celiac disease, epilepsy, and cerebral calcification is a rare condition known as the CEC syndrome. Folate malabsorption is a suggested mechanism


Also, there is a useful patient celiac education page from JAMA Pediatrics & University of Chicago: