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New Swedish study finds: You could be 2.5 times more prone to nerve damage and not know it

by , 03 July 2015

A new study published in JAMA Neurology has revealed that people who have celiac disease are at higher risk of neuropathy (otherwise known as nerve damage).

In the study, researchers found that people with celiac disease are around 2.5 times more likely to receive a diagnosis of neuropathy than those without the disease.

If you suffer from celiac disease or are concerned about developing it, I urge you to read this. If this doesn't include you, I urge you anyway... For a large number of people who have celiac disease don't even know they have it.

What is celiac disease?

Celiac disease is a condition in which your immune system attacks and damages the villi of the small intestine when you consume gluten. Gluten, as you probably already know, is the protein found in wheat, barley and rye. (And yes, celiac disease is a big reason behind the current “gluten-free” craze.)
With damaged villi, your body can’t effectively absorb nutrients. This leads to malnutrition. 
Not the problem with celiac disease is it affects everyone differently. This means it’s often tricky to diagnose.
However, digestive symptoms (like diarrhoea, vomiting and abdominal bloating) are the most common symptoms in kids. In adults, common symptoms include fatigue, bone and joint pain,arthritis and other non-digestive symptoms.
According to most recent statistics, 1% of the South Africa population has celiac disease.  Around 83% of these sufferers are undiagnosed or misdiagnosed with other illnesses.

But how does celiac disease cause nerve damage?

This association is nothing new. Researchers of this latest study say studies have been linking celiac disease to nerve and brain damage for the last 50 years. 
Untreated celiac disease is also associated with an increased risk of nerve-related conditions like multiple sclerosis (for latest news on autoimmune diseases as such, go here).
However, the latest study, led by Dr Jonas F Ludvigsson,  set out to determine the absolute and relative risk of neuropathy among a nationwide population-based sample of patients with a confirmed diagnosis of celiac disease.
Here’s what it found…
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People with celiac disease are 2.5 times more prone to neuropathy

Neuropathy is the name for damage to or disease affecting your nerves. It may impair your sensation, movement, gland or organ function and other aspects of health.
The study included 28,232 individuals from Sweden with confirmed celiac disease and 139.473 control subjects.
Researchers found that 198 (0.7%) of participants with celiac disease were later diagnosed with neuropathy. They also found that neuropathy was later diagnosed in 359 (0.3%) of control participants.
The team calculated that overall, participants with celiac disease were roughly 2.5 times more likely to receive a neuropathy diagnosis than those without it.
Ludvigsson explains: “The absolute risk of developing neuropathy was estimated to be 64 per 100,000 person-years among participants with celiac disease, while the absolute risk of neuropathy was estimated at 15 per 100,000 person-years among participants free of the disease.”
The study also provides the following feedback from researchers: “We found an increased risk of neuropathy in patients with celiac disease that persists after celiac disease diagnosis. Although absolute risks for neuropathy are low, celiac disease is a potentially treatable condition with a young age of onset.”
Based on these new findings, I recommend you’re screen for celiac disease if you’re a neuropathy patient. For another interesting read on celiac disease risks, go here.

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