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  • Jefferson Adams
    Jefferson Adams

    Six Ways Celiac Disease Can Kill You

    Reviewed and edited by a celiac disease expert.

    Celiac.com 08/13/2014 - Even though some folks suffering from symptoms of celiac disease will claim they would welcome death, most people will not actually die from the immediate symptoms of celiac disease; no matter how bad those symptoms get.

    Photo: Wikimedia Commons--NabokovHowever, left untreated, celiac disease can lead to numerous other conditions, several of which are potentially fatal. Remember, many people experience few, or no classic symptoms of celiac disease. These folks may find it easy to keep eating gluten with relatively few noticeable consequences; at least for a time.

    So, for people with celiac disease who ignore either their doctors, or their bodies, the risks can be huge. They can even lead to death by one of the following:

    1) Cancer—Nobody wants cancer, and especially nobody wants the type of cancer that can strike people with gut damage that comes with long-untreated celiac disease.

    People with untreated celiac disease are at risk of developing any number of associated conditions, including gastrointestinal cancer at rates of 40 to 100 times those of the general population. Chief among these types of cancer are a type known as Enteropathy-Associated T-cell Lymphoma (EATL). EATL is a gut cancer that often ends in death. People with celiac disease also need to watch out for non-Hodgkins lymphoma.

    2) Thyroid Disease - There is a 2.5-fold increased risk of papillary cancer of thyroid for celiac patients.

    The good news is that papillary cancer of the thyroid has a high cure rate, with 10-year survival rates estimated at 80% to 90% for any given patient. Still, the dark side is that 10-20% of patients with papillary cancer of the thyroid don’t survive.

    3) Epilepsy - Rare form of celiac disease.

    Patients with an autoimmune disease faced a nearly four-fold higher risk for epilepsy. In some cases, people with epilepsy can suffer from sudden unexpected death (SUDEP).

    SUDEP are still poorly understood, it is possibly the most common cause of death as a result of complications from epilepsy, accounting for between 7.5 to 17% of all epilepsy related deaths and 50% of all deaths in refractory epilepsy.

    4) Heart Failure - Celiac disease doubles the risk of coronary artery disease, which can, in many cases prove fatal.

    5) Diabetes - Diabetes can cause numerous complications, some of which can be fatal. People with celiac disease have higher rates of diabetes than people without celiac disease. Moreover, long-term celiac disease increases death rates in people with diabetes.

    There is also some evidence that a gluten-free diet can lower rates of Type 1 diabetes.

    In the end, for people with T1D, having a celiac disease diagnosis for at least 15 years was associated with a 2.80 times greater risk of death

    6) Obesity - Recent studies suggest that people with celiac disease are likely to be overweight or obese at the time of presentation.

    Studies show that nearly 40% of people diagnosed with celiac disease are actually overweight, not underweight. Also, a full 30% of celiac disease patients are obese at the time of their diagnosis.

    Of course, long term obesity can increase the likelihood of fatality in numerous categories. People treating celiac disease with a gluten-free diet are more likely to have a healthier weight. 

    So, while celiac disease won't kill anyone in the short term, it can have devastating consequences if it remains untreated for a long period of time. Share your thoughts on these ways to die from untreated celiac disease, or add additional insights in the comments section.


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    It would be nice to include some positive info instead of scaring everyone with photos of caskets. I am all for being informed but this makes it sound as if it's a death sentence. Please provide info on what you can do to prevent and reduce your chances of these diseases instead of making it sound like we are all doomed. The caskets were a horrible visual. I am going to continue liking this page but if this happens again, I am going to get my information from an honest, but more uplifting source.

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    It would be nice to include some positive info instead of scaring everyone with photos of caskets. I am all for being informed but this makes it sound as if it's a death sentence. Please provide info on what you can do to prevent and reduce your chances of these diseases instead of making it sound like we are all doomed. The caskets were a horrible visual. I am going to continue liking this page but if this happens again, I am going to get my information from an honest, but more uplifting source.

    The article is titled "Six Ways Celiac Disease Can Kill You," thus you probably should not have clicked on it if you wanted an uplifting article.

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    It would be nice to include some positive info instead of scaring everyone with photos of caskets. I am all for being informed but this makes it sound as if it's a death sentence. Please provide info on what you can do to prevent and reduce your chances of these diseases instead of making it sound like we are all doomed. The caskets were a horrible visual. I am going to continue liking this page but if this happens again, I am going to get my information from an honest, but more uplifting source.

    The first paragraph makes clear that "most people will not actually die from the immediate symptoms of celiac disease; no matter how bad those symptoms get." The rest is simply fact based reality. Untreated celiac disease can lead to potentially fatal complications down the road. Sorry if that was a bit much for your sensitivity setting.

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    You always have such good information! I have both the DQ2 and the DQ8 gene markers. My mother has finally gone gluten free, and I always wondered where the other one on my dad's side of the family came from. This information points straight to my paternal grandmother. Wow! Another point, I know most people at diagnosis are overweight, but I was not. I was dangerously close to death from being malnourished due to my undiagnosed celiac. There are a lot of people that die from "failure to thrive" due to undiagnosed celiac.

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    I think this was an excellent article. It clearly states how important it is to follow a gluten free diet. I for one would love to not follow a gluten-free diet and this reminds me how crucial it is.

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    There I am in the ER having a heart attack, the head of cardiology is introducing himself to me before I head off to the Cath Lab for 3 stints. He asks do you have any other medical conditions. I share that I'm self diagnosed celiac, he responds"oh yeah, I remember that from medical school....he states.

    I had not been gluten free for a number of years leading up to that day, my bad. It wasn't even on his radar.

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    The article is titled "Six Ways Celiac Disease Can Kill You," thus you probably should not have clicked on it if you wanted an uplifting article.

    The title was specific enough. The picture of caskets was a cheap shot to get attention. We all die sooner or later especially as we age as well. Pointing out how celiac CAN lead to diseases and effect which can lead to death is one thing. Sensationalizing with "caskets"or death heads is simply pompous! Also there is no real way to determine the actual amount of difference one would have lived if such and such...etc!

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    It is always a good idea to tell it like it is. Too many people cheat on a gluten-free diet, or won't eat gluten free at all, even when they have a celiac diagnosis. If they know of the many risk factors of untreated celiac, it might be a wake up call for a few of them. I had the classic symptoms of celiac disease most of my life, but was never tested for it, until 10 years ago. I didn't even know anything about celiac. But, when I found out what was wrong I went totally gluten-free, and never cheat. I was diagnosed with Hashimotos thyroid disease, many years before my celiac diagnosis.

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    I was more interested in the title and content than the photo. It is a good reminder for people with celiac disease and non-celiac gluten intolerance to continue avoiding gluten. The potential diseases that may result from gluten are not worth the risk.

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    This was a great article! I was diagnosed with celiac disease at the age of 52 and at that time weighed 110 lbs, losing 5 lbs every week until the diagnosis was made. I also have Barretts Esophagus , had a brain tumor, and had 5 tonic clonic seizures consecutively in one day, and had thyroid disease as well. All of these maladies were later connected to celiac disease. It is important to follow the gluten-free diet, but that does not guarantee that none of these things will happen

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    It was a good eye opener article! More education never hurts.

    Fortunately, there is so many different ways to get preventative methods or products to help heal and be better even for celiac sufferers. There are so many natural herbs out there to aid prevent the constant gut inflammation and/or help to boost the immune system and the absorption ratio also.

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    Guest Amy, An Allergic Foodie

    Posted

    You always have such good information! I have both the DQ2 and the DQ8 gene markers. My mother has finally gone gluten free, and I always wondered where the other one on my dad's side of the family came from. This information points straight to my paternal grandmother. Wow! Another point, I know most people at diagnosis are overweight, but I was not. I was dangerously close to death from being malnourished due to my undiagnosed celiac. There are a lot of people that die from "failure to thrive" due to undiagnosed celiac.

    Amy, I have the DQ 2 and DQ 8 gene markers and I'm also named Amy. My dad had epileptic episodes late in life and died of heart problems. My brother has diabetes. I also have other autoimmune issues. My youngest son has celiac disease. Still, no one in my extended family believes that celiac is genetic!

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  • About Me

    Jefferson Adams is Celiac.com's senior writer and Digital Content Director. He earned his B.A. and M.F.A. at Arizona State University, and has authored more than 2,000 articles on celiac disease. His coursework includes studies in science, scientific methodology, biology, anatomy, medicine, logic, and advanced research. He previously served as SF Health News Examiner for Examiner.com, and devised health and medical content for Sharecare.com. Jefferson has spoken about celiac disease to the media, including an appearance on the KQED radio show Forum, and is the editor of the book "Cereal Killers" by Scott Adams and Ron Hoggan, Ed.D.

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