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Type 1 Diabetics should be screened for celiac disease

Posted on July 14th, 2010 by Alison Read 2 Comments - Add Your Own »

type-1-diabetes1This is important! All type 1 diabetic patients, regardless of the presence of symptoms, should be regularly screened for celiac disease. This was the message at The Endocrine Society 92nd Annual Meeting, based on findings in a new study of Type 1 diabetics.

I’ll break down the numbers for you, as I understand them:

  • 493 patients were screened for celiac disease within roughly 3 months of being diagnosed with type 1 diabetes.
  • 25 of these patients had positive celiac blood tests on their initial screening. Of those who tested negative the first time around, 14 tested positive the second time, making the total number of patients with a positive blood test 39, or 8% of those screened.
  • Of the patients who tested positive on the blood test, 12 had positive biopsies (one showed a positive biopsy 5 years after being diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes.) 7 have not been biopsied.

Now, these numbers are compelling, but I still believe the number of those with a gluten problem is higher. We know that the tests for celiac miss people. A lot of people. I wonder if the gluten intolerance or sensitivity, undetected by mainstream tests, contributed to the onset of  diabetes. The diabetes gets noticed first, because doctors understand it, are aware of it, know how to diagnose it, and to treat it, but perhaps it is another symptom of gluten wreaking havoc on the body.

Having diabetes is hard. Having celiac is hard. Having them both — well, I can’t speak from personal experience, but I imagine it is doubly hard. I can also imagine that someone with type 1 diabetes or a parent of someone with type 1 diabetes would not want to think about having celiac too. But I hope that my urging to pay attention to gluten will get someone’s attention out there.

Undiagnosed celiac disease or gluten intolerance can lead to very serious problems. As stated in an article about the study, “Undiagnosed celiac disease might cause significant morbidity… Short-term complications include growth disturbances, weight loss, and difficulty achieving glycemic control in type 1 diabetics. Long-term complications can include small bowel malignancy.” And these are just a few of the many symptoms and associated conditions related to celiac disease and gluten intolerance.

To read articles about the study, go to the Global Diabetes Community or to Medscape.com (sign up for a free account).

Does anyone have a personal story about gluten and diabetes?

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  1. My 9 year old daughter was just diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes, one month after getting home from the hospital her biopsy came back as positive for celiac. She had no symptoms at all but because her blood work had tested for celiac we were able to find out about it. It is definitely worth a blood test, I of course now wonder if the celiac triggered the diabetes and if we had somehow known that she had celiac then maybe we could have stopped it from happening. There is nothing I can do now of course but if any of my other kids have celiac at least I may be able to stop them from getting diabetes.

    And yes, having both diabetes and celiac is no fun at all. During her 3 day stay in the hospital they kept telling her over and over that she can eat anything she wants she just has to cover it with insulin. This was to help her feel better about her diabetes diagnosis. Obviously now that isn’t the case. As I was talking to her after she found out that she has celiac I told her that I would leave a supply of treats with her teacher so that if anyone brought in a treat she could still have something to eat with everyone. She said “yes, but I’ll still have to go down to the nurses office to get a shot first.” That pretty much sums it up right there.

  2. Wow Robin,
    That is a tough road for a 9 year old. I wonder also if avoiding gluten earlier could have prevented the diabetes. Sigh. Good luck to you.

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