Usually when you read about celiac disease symptoms, you find a discussion of various gastrointestinal symptoms and how they result from the damage gluten intolerance does to the small intestine. But there are a few serious conditions which may occur in someone suffering from untreated celiac disease that are not directly related to gastrointestinal problems.
Two of these conditions are dermatitis herpetiformis and gluten ataxia. In this article I will tell you what these conditions are and how they relate to gluten intolerance.
Dermatitis Herpetiformis, also known as Duhring’s disease and frequently abbreviated as DH, is essentially a skin rash that occurs in some people who consume gluten. While it is often considered to be a celiac disease symptom, some people believe it is an independent autoimmune disease that may occur in some people who do not otherwise exhibit signs of being gluten intolerant.
DH manifests itself through swelling and fluid-filled sacs on the surface of the skin, especially near joints, such as knees and elbows. It can be itchy and painful and often appears in a dramatic, spread manner. This wont’ be a light, barely imperceptible rash.
While severe cases are often treated with topical cortisone medications, the only real way to prevent DH for good is a strict gluten-free diet. One thing to note is that DH is not a traditional allergic reaction. You won’t trigger it if you rub wheat or gluten on your skin. It is an autoimmune response that occurs after you consume foods containing gluten.
Gluten ataxia is a form of cerebellar ataxia. Ataxia is a non-specific designation for a neurological condition where loss of muscle control and coordination occurs. The cerebellar form occurs when the source of the ataxia is believed to be in a part of the brain called the cerebellum, which is a region at the based of your skull near your spine. This part of your brain is largely responsible for motor control.
Loss of muscle control and hand-eye coordination along with increased difficulty forming and articulating spoken words are all signs of ataxia.
Gluten ataxia is cerebellar ataxia where an immune response to gluten appears to be the cause of the dysfunction in the cerebellum. This has been verified with antibody tests of that part of the brain in deceased subjects.
Like with DH, some researchers believe this neurological condition may occur independent of other signs of gluten sensitivity. Originally, scientists believed that the damage to the cerebellum caused by gluten sensitivity was a result of malnutrition. However, recent studies indicate that the same antibodies that attack the small intestine in celiac disease may, in some individuals, also attack the cerebellum directly.
Investigating Less Obvious Celiac Disease Symptoms
So now you know how dermatitis herpetiformis and gluten ataxia may manifest among gluten intolerance sufferers, but they are often not mentioned along with the usual list of gastrointestinal celiac disease symptoms. If you believe you may be suffering from these conditions, I encourage you to seek the attention of a medical professional with a specialization in gluten intolerance or celiac disease. In most cases, this will be an Immunologist.