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  • Scott Adams
    Scott Adams

    Brain White-Matter Lesions are Common in Celiac Disease

    Reviewed and edited by a celiac disease expert.

    PEDIATRICS Vol. 108 No. 2 August 2001, p. e21
    Kieslich M, Errazuriz G, Posselt HG, Moeller-Hartmann W, Zanella F, Boehles H.
    Departments of Pediatrics, Johann Wolfgang Goethe University, Frankfurt/Main, Germany.

    Celiac.com 08/24/2001 - It is well known that celiac disease causes destruction of the villi in the small intestine that results in malabsorption of nutrients in affected individuals. There is solid evidence that additional neurological complications can result, such as epilepsy, possibly associated with occipital calcifications or folate deficiency and cerebellar ataxia. An increase in brain white-matter lesions has been reported in patients with Crohn disease and ulcerative colitis, but until now, not in patients with celiac disease. A recent study published in the August 2, 2001 issue of Pediatrics has now demonstrated a similar increase of these lesions in patients with celiac disease.

    The study was carried out by Dr. Kieslich and colleagues of the Departments of Pediatrics, Johann Wolfgang Goethe University, Frankfurt/Main, Germany, on 75 biopsy-proven celiac disease patients who were on a gluten-free diet. Most of the patients in the study were between 2.8 and 24.2 years old, and the mean age was 11.6 years. All of the patients underwent prospectively clinical neurological examinations, laboratory investigations, electroencephalography, computed tomography, and magnetic resonance imaging. According to the study the mean period of gluten exposure was 2.4 years, although it was likely longer as recent studies have shown that many celiacs are asymptomatic for many years before damage occurs that is severe enough to cause obvious symptoms.

    The researchers found that ten of the patients had neurological manifestations such as febrile seizures, single generalized seizures, mild ataxia, and muscular hypotonia with retarded motor development, although no folate deficiencies were found. Further, the hippocampal regions appeared normal, and no cerebral calcifications were found, however, the MRI results showed unilateral and bilateral T2-hyperintensive white-matter lesions in 15 patients (20%). According to the research, there does not appear to be a relationship between these lesions and dietary compliance or neurological or electroencephalographic abnormalities.

    The researchers conclude that focal white-matter lesions in the brain may represent an extra-intestinal manifestation of celiac disease. They theorize that the lesions may be the result of a decreased blood supply caused by the constriction or obstruction of blood vessels due to inflammation, or caused by the destruction of the nerve fiber due to inflammation. Further, children with white-matter lesions, even if they do not have intestinal symptoms, should be tested for celiac disease. Last, more research needs to be done on people celiac disease of all ages to develop a proper predictive value, and to discover the exact cause of the lesions.


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    Guest Terri Cunningham

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    I am a 58 year old woman with recently diagnosed celiac disease. I was diagnosed in 2000 with MS. My father had Crohn's and Parkinson's disease. As well, my 11 year old niece developed seizures as a result of epilepsy. I am now wondering whether she should also be tested for celiac. Thank you for this information.

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    I am a 58 year old woman with recently diagnosed celiac disease. I was diagnosed in 2000 with MS. My father had Crohn's and Parkinson's disease. As well, my 11 year old niece developed seizures as a result of epilepsy. I am now wondering whether she should also be tested for celiac. Thank you for this information.

    Hi Terri,

     

    You are right to be concerned.

     

    2nd degree relatives like your niece have an increased prevalence of celiac disease. With a manifestation like epilepsy, she should be tested for celiac disease.

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    Just found I had celiac two weeks ago. The white brain matter was due to my passed drug abuse and that spasms and seizure were psychogenic and so and so forth for the last 10 years. I became so malnourished I almost died and was told I had anorexia. My psychiatrist told me to check out celiac and see a doctor fast. If hadn't of changed my diet before I saw the doctor I might not be here today.

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    I was experiencing alarming neurological symptoms (amongst other things), and upon having an MRI discovered large white matter lesions inconsistent with MS, and also rare in someone my age (30). They had no explanation for them. Out of desperation I sought natural therapies, and after an examination on the advice of my naturopath I attempted a gluten-free diet. It was like a new me! I experienced the best sleep of my life, no migraines, better concentration skills and complete alleviation of my heartburn/cramps etc. I told my doctor about it, she arranged for me to be tested - and celiac disease was the diagnosis. I wish I'd been diagnosed a decade ago and a lot of suffering could have been avoided!

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    I was experiencing alarming neurological symptoms (amongst other things), and upon having an MRI discovered large white matter lesions inconsistent with MS, and also rare in someone my age (30). They had no explanation for them. Out of desperation I sought natural therapies, and after an examination on the advice of my naturopath I attempted a gluten-free diet. It was like a new me! I experienced the best sleep of my life, no migraines, better concentration skills and complete alleviation of my heartburn/cramps etc. I told my doctor about it, she arranged for me to be tested - and celiac disease was the diagnosis. I wish I'd been diagnosed a decade ago and a lot of suffering could have been avoided!

    Thank you for sharing, Krystal! I have a loved one going through a similar experience to what you are describing. There is sadly not enough information for many people regarding the brain-gut connection. I'm glad there are websites like this one, and medical professionals who are willing to blaze new trails. Best of health to you!

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  • About Me

    Celiac.com's Founder and CEO, Scott was diagnosed with celiac disease  in 1994, and, due to the nearly total lack of information available at that time, was forced to become an expert on the disease in order to recover. Scott launched the site that later became Celiac.com in 1995 "To help as many people as possible with celiac disease get diagnosed so they can begin to live happy, healthy gluten-free lives."  In 1998 he founded The Gluten-Free Mall which he sold in 2014. He is co-author of the book Cereal Killers, and founder and publisher of Journal of Gluten Sensitivity.

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