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  • Jefferson Adams
    Jefferson Adams

    Woman's Psychotic Delusions Caused by Gluten and Undiagnosed Celiac Disease

    Reviewed and edited by a celiac disease expert.

    Celiac.com 07/21/2016 - Celiac disease is a condition that can sometimes have vague symptoms, including mental and neurological symptoms, and that can make it hard to diagnose. Sometimes, individual cases can help to shed light on the serious nature of celiac disease, as well as the importance of a gluten-free diet in treatment. Consider the case of a 37-year-old Ph.D. candidate began to suffer from mysterious delusions, details of which appear in The New England Journal of Medicine.

    The doctors who treated her wrote that the woman, who was otherwise healthy and seemingly normal, had begun to believe that friends, family members and even strangers were conspiring to act out scenes for her in a what the woman thought was some kind of "game."

    The delusions got so bad that the woman began making threats against her family, and was admitted to a psychiatric hospital and was diagnosed with a psychotic disorder, according to the report. The doctors prescribed anti-psychotic medications, which, they wrote, did not work very well. However, during her stay, they did notice that she had several vitamin and mineral deficiencies, had lost a lot of weight and also had thyroid problems, according to the report.

    Noting the symptoms, the doctors began to suspect celiac disease, said Dr. Alessio Fasano, director of the Center for Celiac Research and Treatment at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston and one of the doctors who treated the woman. When the doctors confirmed celiac disease, the woman refused to go on a gluten-free diet, because she was still suffering delusions and believed the doctors to be actively deceiving her about having celiac disease.

    In this case, the woman lost her job, became homeless and even attempted suicide before she was finally re-hospitalized at a psychiatric facility, where she was successfully placed on a gluten-free diet, where she improved tremendously. She came to understand that a reaction to gluten had triggered her symptoms and caused her life to spin out of control, said Dr. Fasano, and she wanted people to understand that her strange behavior was due to the gluten reaction.

    The woman's case is not typical, to be sure, but it highlights the sometimes sneaky ways celiac disease can manifest, the serious health impacts celiac disease can have, and the importance of adopting a gluten-free diet.

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    I had similar things happening to my brain, but it still went undiagnosed for many years to follow. I was put in the mental ward many times and never was I tested for celiac disease; my faith in the medical community is completely gone. This blog and others are what keep me going. Thank you for all your footwork.

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    I believe undiagnosed celiac disease made me Bi-Polar, as it all happened at the time just before I was diagnosed. Yes, I need medication and the doctors cannot absolutely confirm it, but yes, celiac can mimic Bi-Polar, but you still need meds.

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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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