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When my child is struggling or suffering in any way, I am eager to understand what is going on, and find a way to make it all better.
I imagine you feel the same way, too.
If you notice any changes in your child’s behavior, growth, moods, grades, diet, and/or more, perhaps it’s time to probe whether something more than adolescence might be at play.
In this post, I will share the 10 most common signs of celiac disease in kids. If you notice any of these signs or symptoms of celiac disease in your child, please contact your child’s doctor immediately to discuss.
Don’t know what celiac disease is? Read my article, What is Celiac Disease?, to get up to speed.
10 Signs of Celiac Disease in Kids
According to WebMD, there are a variety of signs of celiac disease in kids. In this article, I will explore the 10 most common symptoms, as well as what you, as a parent, can do if you suspect celiac disease in your child.
(1) Growth Problems or Failure to Thrive
Celiac disease is most commonly known as a disease of the gut. When someone has celiac disease, their gut is unable to properly absorb nutrients from the food they eat.
Every time someone with celiac disease eats gluten, their immune system gets confused and launches an attack on the healthy tissue surrounding the small intestine.
This autoimmune attacks impairs the small intestine’s ability to function properly, deterring it from properly absorbing and distributing nutrients from the food you eat to the rest of your body (where it’s need to help your organ’s function properly).
Without a healthy small intestine, a child isn’t getting the proper nutrition he or she needs to grow and thrive during his or her formative years.
Therefore, if your child is falling off the growth chart, short in stature, or experiencing delayed puberty, it’s crucial that you talk to your doctor about testing him or her for celiac disease right away!
Related Reading: How to Get Tested for Celiac Disease
(2) Weight Loss and Malnourishment
If your child’s body isn’t properly absorbing and distributing nutrients from the food she is eating, or your child is experiencing chronic diarrhea, she might have celiac disease.
Children with undiagnosed celiac disease are often (but not always) underweight and look malnourished.
However, experts warn that it’s not uncommon for overweight or obese children to have celiac disease, and that overweight children with other underlying symptoms associated with celiac disease can still test positive for the autoimmune disease.
(3) Digestive Problems
The Mayo Clinic says that children with celiac disease are more likely than adults to have one or more of the following digestive problems:
- Distended, swollen belly (which may worsen as the day progresses and after meals)
- Vomiting and nausea
- Chronic diarrhea
- Constipation – one study found the frequency of celiac disease in children with chronic constipation to be slightly higher than the general population, albeit without significant difference in the number.
Related Reading: 60 Signs and Symptoms of Non-Celiac Gluten Sensitivity
Anemia is a common symptom of celiac disease in kids, usually due to malabsorption of micronutrients including iron, folic acid, and vitamin B12. The prevalence of anemia affects anywhere from 12-69 percent of newly diagnosed celiac disease patients according to a variety of studies.
Iron-deficiency anemia (IDA) is very common symptom in undiagnosed celiac disease, afflicting up to 46 percent of patients according to research, albeit a higher number of adults are affected by IDA than children.
Any nutritional deficiency can lead to feeling of fatigue, making it seem like your child is withdrawing from school or his friends even though he’s might just be physically exhausted as a result of impaired nutrient absorption.
Related Reading: 10 Signs and Symptoms of Celiac Disease
(5) Mood and Brain Disorders
Chronic lack of nutrients can result in a child feeling moody and/or irritable, as well as lead to feelings of depression.
A Swedish study confirmed this, too. Researchers found that children with celiac disease are at higher risk for psychiatric disorders such as mood disorders, anxiety, eating disorders, behavioral issues, ADHD, autism spectrum disorders, and intellectual disabilities.
(6) Skin Disorders
Children with undiagnosed celiac disease may also experience a variety of itchy, sometimes unsightly, skin disorders.
The most common skin disorder associated with celiac disease is called Dermatitis Herpetiformis (DH), often referred to as “celiac rash.”
According to WebMD, a child with DH will have red, itchy bumps on his skin, and sometimes even painful blisters that look like herpes (although DH does not come from the herpes virus).
According to Beyond Celiac, DH is rare in children; however, if your child experiences red, blistery, itchy skin, it’s wise to talk to your doctor about testing him for celiac disease.
(7) Oral Issues
Children with celiac disease might experience cream, yellow or brown discoloration in the enamel covering of their adult teeth. They might also experience canker sores, mouth sores, and/or geographic tongue.
A Canadian survey found that 16 percent of children and 26 percent of adults with confirmed celiac disease experienced recurrent oral ulcers.
Related Reading: Gluten’s Effect on Cold Sores, Canker Sores and Geographic Tongue
(8) Genetic Predisposition
Children with an immediate family with celiac disease have a higher likelihood of getting the autoimmune condition.
A study published in the Journal of Pediatric Gastroenterology found a 4.8 percent prevalence of celiac disease in first-degree relatives of patients already diagnosed with the disorder.
Related Reading: Is There a Higher Risk for Celiac Disease in Immediate Family?
Additionally, the Celiac Disease Center at the University of Chicago says that first-degree relatives with celiac disease test positive for celiac disease between five and 10 percent of the time, and second-degree relatives (aunts, uncles, grandparents and cousins) test positive for the disorder approximately 2.5 percent of the time.
(9) Bone Disorders
Children with thin bones and/or frequent fractures are also at high risk of being diagnosed with celiac disease.
While osteoporosis is often thought of as an older person’s disease, it can strike at any age, even in children.
In fact, the prevalence of osteoporosis and osteopenia in patients newly diagnosed with celiac disease may be as high as 75 percent according to Beyond Celiac, likely due to impaired absorption of calcium and magnesium.
(10) Other Disorders
Experts recommend children with any of the following disorders also get tested for celiac disease:
- Down Syndrome: Studies show three to six percent of individuals with Down syndrome also have celiac disease. Only about one percent of the overall population is said to have celiac disease.
- IgA Deficiency: When a person has an IgA deficiency, they may receive a false negative on a celiac disease antibody test, however, individuals with an IgA deficiency are 10 to 20 times likely to develop an autoimmune response to gluten than the general population according to Beyond Celiac.
- Juvenile Chronic Arthritis: Researchers estimate that celiac disease is seven times more common in children with juvenile arthritis than in the general population.
- Turner Syndrome: Researchers found that four to six percent of Turner syndrome patients also have celiac disease.
- Type 1 Diabetes: Type 1 diabetes and celiac disease have a similar genetic makeup, and approximately three to eight percent of people with type 1 diabetes also have celiac disease according to Beyond Celiac.
- William’s Syndrome: Beyond Celiac says studies found people with Williams syndrome have a higher risk for testing positive for celiac disease.
Sometimes the Signs are Hidden
It’s important to note that many people mistakenly think of celiac disease solely as a digestive disorder. However, as you can see from this list, celiac disease can manifest itself in a variety of ways and can affect your brain, gut, joints, and more.
Related Reading: 10 Facts Your Doctor Doesn’t Know about Celiac Disease
Unfortunately, because there are so many signs of celiac disease in children, getting a proper diagnosis can take years, if ever, leaving a slew of damaging symptoms and heartaches along the way.
If you see or suspect any of these signs of celiac disease in your child, please discuss celiac disease testing with your doctor so you can “catch” celiac disease before the damage becomes lasting and permanent.
There are at-home celiac disease tests you can use to test you or your child for celiac disease if you prefer the convenience of testing at home. As always, please discuss any results with your child’s doctor.