Celiac Disease Complications
If celiac disease is left untreated, complications may develop. Some of these problems can occur because of the small intestine's inability to digest food and absorb nutrients properly. Other problems may develop from damage to the intestinal lining that may or may not cause noticeable symptoms.
Teens and adults often have milder symptoms, but they may still have complications. Some complications in teens and adults are different from those in children.
Complications in children
Children who have untreated celiac disease may develop complications such as:
- Weight loss and failure to grow, also known as failure to thrive. A child may be short for his or her age and have small, undeveloped muscles of the buttocks, arms, and legs. A child's belly may appear swollen. Even if a child eats well, his or her weight may be below normal.
- Rickets or osteoporosis. These conditions may develop because the body does not absorb enough calcium and vitamin D.
- Iron deficiency anemia. Children who have celiac disease are at increased risk for developing iron deficiency anemia because their intestines are not able to absorb enough iron.
- Loss of tooth enamel. Enamel may not form normally on the teeth, leaving them soft and yellow.
- Folic acid deficiency anemia. This condition may develop if the body absorbs too little of the B vitamin folic acid.
- Intussusception. Celiac disease may damage the intestines, causing this condition to occur.
- Rectal prolapse. This condition of the large intestine may develop with severe celiac disease.
Complications in teens
Teens who have untreated celiac disease can have many of the same problems as those in younger children. In addition, they may have:
- Delays in growth. Teens may be short and underweight for their age.
- Delay of puberty. Menstrual periods may start later than normal in girls. Facial hair growth and voice changes may occur late in boys.
It is sometimes hard for teens to consistently follow a gluten-free diet. Make sure your teen knows that the more he or she doesn't follow the diet, the more likely the above complications are to develop.
Complications in adults
Adults who have celiac disease may develop complications such as:
- Refractory sprue. When symptoms don't get better or come back in spite of a gluten-free diet, this is called refractory sprue.
- Blockage or sores (ulcerations) in the small intestine.
- Iron deficiency anemia and folic acid deficiency anemia.
- Infertility, recurrent miscarriages, and absence of menstrual periods (amenorrhea).
- Anxiety and depression.
- Lymphoma of the intestine and possibly cancer of the esophagus.
Primary Medical Reviewer E. Gregory Thompson, MD - Internal Medicine
Specialist Medical Reviewer Jerry S. Trier, MD - Gastroenterology
Current as ofSeptember 9, 2014
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