Celiac disease and diabetes

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An overview of the connection between type 1 diabetes and celiac disease, including diagnosis and treatment of the condition in children with diabetes.

Key points

  • People with type 1 diabetes have a higher chance of developing celiac disease.
  • If someone in your family has celiac disease or you are worried your child has it, speak with the diabetes team.
  • The only treatment for celiac is a gluten-free diet; work with your child's dietitian to create a safe meal plan for your child.

​​Celiac disease is a disorder where the body’s immune system attacks itself. In celiac disease, the body develops sensitivity to gluten, the major protein of wheat, rye and barley. Celiac disease affects the ability of the small intestines to absorb food. Some people might have no symptoms, while others may experience belly pain, bloating, poor growth or weight gain, and loose, foul-smelling stools.

Celiac disease: Villi damage Location of the small intestine in the body shown with a side by side comparison of healthy villi versus flattened villi that is typically seen with celiac disease
With celiac disease, the finger-like projections (villi) found in the small intestine become damaged and flattened. This makes absorbing nutrients difficult.

People with type 1 diabetes are at greater risk for celiac disease

People with type 1 diabetes have a greater chance to develop celiac disease. In people with type 1 diabetes, as many as 10% of children have celiac, compared with only 1% of children in the general population. Celiac disease can interfere with diabetes control. For example, children can experience:

  • unexplained hypoglycemia​ (low blood glucose (sugar) levels)
  • difficult blood sugar control.

Diagnosis of celiac disease

Routine screening for celiac disease in asymptomatic (not showing symptoms) individuals with type 1 diabetes is controversial. Untreated asymptomatic celiac disease is not associated with short or long-term health risks. However, if a person does have symptoms, screening by a blood test is recommended. If the blood test is positive, a biopsy of the intestines is done to confirm the diagnosis. This means a tiny piece of the intestine will be taken for further analysis. If someone else in your family has celiac disease, or you are worried that your child may have celiac disease, tell the diabetes team.

Treatment of celiac disease

Because the only treatment for celiac disease is a strictly gluten-free diet, you should work with your dietitian who will assess your meal planning and safely guide you through this process.

Last updated: November 20th 2017