Journey Forth #3 : Celiac Disease and its Ties to other Auto Immune Disorders
Not to start a post with a warning, but I will say that this post will be unpleasant... or maybe even boring depending on your life experiences. I think the topics and the information are really important though so if you are still willing, let's continue our travels. :)
In previous posts, we have discussed the basics of celiac disease, treatment and lifestyle, as well as skin problems that can go hand in hand with the disorder. For the next little bit, I wanted to talk about the numerous auto immune disorders that many patients may have to deal with as well. Because if there is one thing that seems pretty consistent, once you have one autoimmune disorder, your chances of developing another one are pretty high. Risks for several other health problems are pretty high as well and so I think it is important to acknowledge and discuss them for two reasons. One is that many people do not understand or have the knowledge of how these disorders do go together and are then unable to have themselves tested and utilize their medical providers for a full treatment of their symptoms and therefore, to be able to have the best quality of life they can attain. Someone who has celiac disease may attribute strange symptoms to that disorder and not discover and treat the other disorders that ail them. The opposite is true as well and someone with diabetes or severe arthritis may treat that disorder and not recognize that their disorder is so challenging because they also have celiac disease. This knowledge allows them to get tested or if they wish instead, to follow the gluten-free diet for a few months and see how it affects their body and the symptoms from the other diseases. Another important reason to discuss these disorders isn't just for those who need the information personally, but also for their friends, relatives, caregivers, etc... Knowledge is power and creates an awareness of challenges which in turn creates empathy, understanding and advocacy. As the Father has asked us to 'mourn with those that mourn', this insight helps all of us whether affected or not to not only help people as we meet and befriend individuals, but to also not hinder them accidentally in our ignorance. That is my hope any way!
I have not put these disorders in any specific order and so their listing is random. Signs, symptoms and their links to celiac disease could actually take a page or two for each one so I will out of necessity be fairly brief on each one and stick with the very basics. The debate on why people are more likely to develop some of these other disorders is still continuing. One of the most common theories is that undiagnosed celiac disease can potentially 'switch' on a immunological mechanism that can then cause some of these other disorders. However it does happen, what does seem pretty clear is that it is pretty easy for a person with celiac disease to develop another problem... and for someone with one of these other problems to 'catch' celiac disease. :)
Other Auto-immune Disorders
2. Addison’s disease - a rare autoimmune disorder in the general population, this disease is characterized by insufficiency of the adrenal glands. The body depends on hormones developed by these glands and when enough hormone isn’t produced, the cells in different parts of the body respond; symptoms many include skin darkening, low blood pressure, muscle weakness or pain, hypoglycemia, joint pain, and neurological symptoms including depression and irritability. Other common complaints are nausea and vomiting, abdominal pain, salt cravings, body hair loss as well as weakness and fatigue. In bad cases, this disorder can become life threatening and cause death.
3. Crohn’s disease – most commonly characterized by chronic inflammation of the gastrointestinal tract- most commonly affects the ileum and the beginning of the colon. Symptoms may include diarrhea, rectal bleeding, abdominal cramps and sensations of incomplete evacuation as well as constipation or bowel obstruction. Other common complaints may be fever, weight loss, amenorrhea, fatigue and night sweats. One characteristic of this disorder is that it affects the entire thickness of the bowel wall although it has been known to skip areas… so that there can be a small area of perfectly healthy bowel surrounded by diseased and damaged tissue. (The symptoms of ulcerative colitis are similar, but these disorders are not the same and the areas affected by each are different.)
5. Graves disease - The most common cause of hyperthyroidism, this autoimmune disorder results in over production of thyroid hormones. Those individuals who have this disorder can suffer from a multitude of symptoms with include both physical (fine tremor, weight loss, enlarged thyroid, infertility, eye discomfort and vision changes, irregular and rapid heartbeat as well as skin abnormalities , etc...) and mental health challenges (anxiety, psychosis, mania, irritability, depression and personality changes.) Some studies show that around 4.5% of individuals with Graves disease also have celiac disease and the thyroid dysfunction most commonly caused by this disorder can cause a worsening of glycemic control and an increased needs for insulin helping to cause an individual to become diabetic or to make their diabetes significantly harder to control.
6. multi focal leucoencephalopathy – A rare disorder that causes damage to the myelin sheath on the nerves in the brain- a tissue that protects and covers all the nerves in the body. The damage causes the axions of the nerve cells to have difficulty communicating with each other and even the inability to do so. The symptoms are diverse due to the fact that this disorder can affect any nerve in the brain... which helps control the nerves in the rest of the body. Some common symptoms that are described by patients are clumsiness, headaches, memory loss, progressive weakness, visual changes, as well as speech and personality changes. This disorder can lead to disability and death.
Separate Related Disorders
A short list of other honorable mentions :)
Anemia, migraines, myopathy dementia, gall bladder malfunction, Raynaud's phenomenon, peripheral neuropathy, pancreatic insufficiency, many forms of gastro intestinal cancers, primary sclerosing cholangitis, juvenile idiopathic arthritis, idiopathic dilated cardiomyopathy, ulcerative colitis, microscopic colitis.... and probably many more that I missed. Whew!
That was a pretty long list... sort of depressing too! But a lot to think and talk about. As far as I know, celiac disease is the only auto immune disorder that I have... although my doctor is getting ready to test for two others. I have certainly struggled with infertility and serious nutritional deficiencies. I have started to show the signs of arthritis and Dry Eye Syndrome which is cause by immuno-inflammation. Otherwise, well I'm pretty good :)
Any thoughts on this? What experiences with yourself and others can you share? Did you read this post and wonder about your own health and the possibility of having more than one disorder when you become introspective and look at your current medical diagnoses? What are your thoughts?