Neurologic Effects of Celiac Disease in Children

The impact of gluten on someone with Celiac Disease (CD) can be very damaging to the gut--but did you know it can also affect brain function? It is estimated that 8-10% of people with CD are affected by 1 or more of several neurological conditions. Migraine headaches, epilepsy, ataxia (loss of muscle control) or depression are some of the commonly reported conditions in adults. But less is known about the impact in children. For this study, 48 children (age 2-18) diagnosed with CD were monitored over a 10 year period. They tracked their height, weight, blood and immune markers, motor development, and brain function via psychological exams and brain scans. Over 10 years researchers found that 16 of the 48 children presented 1 or more neurologic symptom as the initial sign of having CD. The children most commonly experienced headache/migraine, ADHD (attention deficity/hyperactivity disorder), epileptic disorder. Less commonly they experienced mental retardation, cerebellar ataxia and behavior disorders. The children all followed a gluten free diet, but favorable results were only noted in the children with migraine and epilepsy. The diet did not help any of the other neurologic symptoms. Because of this study researchers noted that CD can present with a number of different signs in children. It is important that health professionals realize the possibility of these symptoms being caused by CD and that they test to confirm, so that children get treatment as soon as possible. Reference: Diaconu G, et al. Celiac disease with neurologic manifestations in children. Rev Med Chir Soc Med Nat Iasi. 2013; 117(1): 88-94.

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