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Health

14th May 2024

New study finds link between undiagnosed coeliac disease and infertility – here are the signs you need to know

Sophie Collins

Coeliac

Recent studies have shed light on the intricate relationship between coeliac disease and infertility.

These latest findings reveal alarming statistics that underscore the importance of early detection and treatment of the autoimmune disease.

According to research featured in the Lancet medical journal, approximately 6% of women grappling with infertility may link their condition to undiagnosed or untreated coeliac disease.

The findings, explained by experts like nutritionist and dietitian Sarah Keogh from the Coeliac Society of Ireland, show the critical need for more awareness regarding the implications of coeliac disease. 

Keogh explained that the manifestations of the disease extend beyond typical gastrointestinal symptoms, and noted that people may experience ongoing issues with low iron, Vitamin B12 deficiency, fatigue, dermatological issues such as an itchy skin rash, and oral ulcers.

Despite the severity of the condition, there is a widespread lack of understanding regarding its impact on fertility. 

Keogh highlighted this gap in awareness, and said: “It’s not surprising that it does have the effect [that it does], but I think it’s underestimated how many people it does affect.” 

She attributes this oversight to the malnutrition induced by coeliac disease, which often leads to deficiencies in essential micronutrients, resulting in fertility issues in both men and women.

As well as this, the research reveals additional complications for men, with up to 7% of them suffering from hypogonadism, a condition that adversely affects sperm health and hormone levels. 

This new information underscores the urgency of comprehensive screening and treatment protocols for those with coeliac disease.

Despite its prevalence, this disease remains vastly under-diagnosed, with only 36% of affected individuals receiving a formal diagnosis. 

This staggering statistic shows the need for enhanced screening measures and public education initiatives to ensure timely detection and intervention.

Symptoms to look out for

According to the Coeliac Society of Ireland: “The symptoms of coeliac disease can be very different between one person and the next. 

“The most common symptoms are in the gut and can include diarrhoea, constipation, bloating and abdominal/tummy pain. Sometimes people think that they have irritable bowel syndrome.

“Lots of people with coeliac disease will also have fatigue, iron or other nutrient deficiencies and excess wind/flatulence. 

“However, coeliac disease can affect many different parts of the body. So some people can have severe headaches, mouth ulcers, poor enamel on teeth or short stature. 

“Symptoms can vary depending on someone’s age and not everyone will have the same symptoms. 

“Some people with coeliac disease may have no symptoms are only found to be coeliac when they are being tested for something else.”

When it comes to knowing whether your baby is suffering from Coeliac Disease, the society says: “Babies with coeliac disease will not show symptoms of coeliac disease until they have started eating gluten – usually around six months of age. 

“If a baby does have coeliac disease they may have diarrhoea or loose, pale stools; vomiting, anaemia, be very cranky and difficult to soothe; have a bloated belly and lethargy/low energy. Babies and young children may also have wasted buttocks.”

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