Can Celiac Disease Cause Skipped Periods?

Can celiac cause missed periods?. Murat Sarica/Getty Images

Question: Can celiac disease cause you to skip your period? If you skip your period (or several periods) and you know for certain that you're not pregnant, could the problem be that you actually have celiac disease?

Answer: Yes, undiagnosed celiac disease definitely can cause you to skip one or more periods. This is a condition known to doctors as amenorrhea, where you're not pregnant and there's no reason (such as menopause) that you shouldn't be having your period.

Technically, you have amenorrhea if you've missed three periods or more in a row (and you're not pregnant or in menopause, of course). Medical studies have shown that women with celiac disease are much more prone to this problem than women without the condition.

How Often Do Celiac Women Skip Periods?

Pretty often. In one large study, nearly 20% of celiac women reported having amenorrhea (skipping three periods or more in a row) at some point, compared to only 2.2% of women without celiac disease.

Another study found even higher percentages for both groups (although the celiac women remained well above the non-celiac women): nearly 39% of celiac women qualified for an amenorrhea diagnosis at some point, compared to about 9% of the non-celiac group.

Getting a proper diagnosis and starting the gluten-free diet appears to solve the problem in many (although not all) cases.

Studies also have found that women with celiac disease report other period issues, including: infrequent, light periods (which sounds great but could indicate a problem that makes infertility more likely), normally timed but extremely light periods (same issue), strange spotting between periods or instead of periods, and extremely heavy or painful periods (more on that here: Gluten Can Make Your Period Miserable).

Late First Period Also Could Mean Celiac

Celiac disease also can cause young women to get their first period later than normal, a condition known as delayed menarche. In technical medical terms, delayed menarche sometimes is referred to as "primary amenorrhea." (Yes, these medical terms can be a bit much to take in.)

At least one case report in the medical literature cites this issue. In that case, a 20-year-old woman didn't go through puberty until she had been diagnosed with celiac disease and begun to follow a gluten-free diet. Six months after she went gluten-free, she got her first period.

Some physicians recommend testing women with amenorrhea for celiac disease, especially if they have other celiac disease symptoms.

Fortunately, once women are diagnosed with celiac disease and adopt the gluten-free diet, most resume menstruating normally.

Source:

D. Martinelli, et al. Reproductive life disorders in Italian celiac women. A case-control study. BMC Gastroenterology. 2010 Aug 6;10:89.

Molteni N et al. Obstetric and gynecological problems in women with untreated celiac sprue. Journal of Clinical Gastroenterology. 1990 Feb;12(1):37-9.

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