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Celiac Disease and Osteoporosis

Celiac disease and osteoporosis are linked -- osteoporosis can be a complication of untreated celiac disease. Because celiac disease causes damage to the lining of the small intestine, the body has difficulty absorbing nutrients (such as the calcium needed to build strong bones). As a result, low bone density is common in both children and adults with untreated and newly diagnosed celiac disease. Osteoporosis, if undetected, can progress for many years without symptoms until a fracture occurs.

An Overview Celiac Disease and Osteoporosis

Untreated celiac disease can lead to certain complications. One of these complications is osteoporosis.
Celiac Disease
Celiac disease, sometimes called sprue or celiac sprue, is an inherited intestinal disorder in which the body cannot tolerate gluten. Gluten is a protein found in wheat, rye, barley, farina, and bulgur. When people with celiac disease eat foods containing gluten, their immune systems respond by attacking and damaging the lining of the small intestine. The small intestine is responsible for absorbing nutrients from food into the bloodstream for the body to use. When the lining of the small intestine is damaged, so is its ability to absorb these nutrients.
Until recently, celiac disease was considered uncommon in the United States. However, recent studies suggest that the disease may be underdiagnosed and that as many as 1 in every 133 Americans could have the disease.
Celiac disease affects people differently. Some people develop symptoms as children and others as adults. Symptoms vary and may or may not occur in the digestive system. Symptoms of celiac disease may include:
  • Diarrhea
  • Abdominal pain (or stomach pain)
  • Weight loss
  • Irritability
  • Depression
  • Other symptoms.
Irritability is one of the most common symptoms among children with celiac disease. In some cases, celiac disease goes undetected because the symptoms are so varied and may only flare up occasionally.
Children and adults with untreated celiac disease may become malnourished, meaning they do not get enough nutrients. This can result in anemia, weight loss, and, in children, delayed growth and small stature. Among the possible complications of untreated celiac disease are the inability to develop optimal bone mass in children and the loss of bone in adults, both of which increase the risk of osteoporosis.
The only treatment for celiac disease is to follow a gluten-free diet (see Celiac Disease Treatment or Diet for Celiac Disease).
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