Celiac Disease Signs and Symptoms

Celiac disease usually causes general gastrointestinal discomfort. Symptoms may include the following:

  • Abdominal cramps
  • Bloating
  • Constipation
  • Diarrhea (occasional or persistent)
  • Gas
  • Itchy, blistering rash on the elbows, knees, and buttocks (called dermatitis herpetiformis, or DH, which is a reaction to gluten in the system)
  • Lactose intolerance (difficulty digesting milk or foods made with milk)
  • Loss of appetite
  • Mood changes, depression
  • Stomach pain
  • Stool that is oily or has a gray tinge
  • Weakness or fatigue
  • Weight loss

In children, signs of celiac disease may include the above symptoms, as well as the following:

  • Distention of the stomach (potbelly)
  • Difficulty concentrating and learning
  • Flat buttocks
  • Irritability
  • Low percentile for height and weight (i.e., not growing as expected for age group)
  • Paleness

Several complications can occur in patients with celiac disease, as a result of the body's inability to absorb vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients. Complications of celiac disease include the following:

  • Birth defects (in babies born to mothers with undiagnosed celiac disease)
  • Miscarriage
  • Osteoporosis
  • Short stature
  • Slowed growth (in children)

Over time, if a patient with celiac disease does not adopt a strict, gluten-free diet, damage to the small intestine can lead to more serious complications, such as cancer of the intestinal organs (e.g., colorectal cancer).

Publication Review By: Stanley J. Swierzewski, III, M.D.

Published: 28 Feb 2008

Last Modified: 17 Aug 2015