Can I Have Celiac Disease If My Main Symptom Is Constipation?

Yes, Many People Get Diarrhea with Celiac. But You Can Go The Other Way Too

constipated man - could it be celiac disease?
Can you have celiac disease if you have constipation, not diarrhea?. Getty Images/Peter Dazeley

Question: Can I have celiac disease if my main symptom is constipation?

Answer:  Absolutely — if you have chronic constipation along with other celiac disease symptoms, you should be tested for the condition.

Decades ago, physicians used to think that celiac disease only occurred in children — specifically, only in children who appeared malnourished and who had frequent watery diarrhea. But years of further research has shown that many celiacs, both children and adults, suffer from constipation or from alternating constipation and diarrhea.

You have constipation if you have fewer than three bowel movements a week. Cccasional constipation happens to many people, but your constipation is considered chronic if you're constipated for several weeks or longer.

A medical study conducted in Ireland found that only 76% of patients had digestive symptoms at the time of their celiac disease diagnosis, including 56% with diarrhea and about 15% with constipation. One-third of the total group had abdominal pain. Another study found constipation in about 10% of children ultimately diagnosed with celiac disease.

As that study shows,  you don't even need to have gastrointestinal symptoms to have celiac disease — about one-quarter of people didn't. While constipation was less common than diarrhea (that so-called "classic" celiac symptom), it wasn't particularly uncommon. Plenty of people had it.

The Bottom Line

Don't rule out (or let your doctor rule out) the possibility of celiac disease just because you're mostly constipated (or you have a mix of constipation and diarrhea.

Just as it's possible to be overweight and have celiac disease, it's possible to have constipation and have celiac disease. Consider getting tested, especially if you have other symptoms on this extensive list of celiac disease symptoms.

Sources:

B. Egan-Mitchell et al. Constipation in Childhood Celiac Disease. Archives of Disease in Childhood. 1972 April; 47(252): 238–240.

N.G. McElvaney et al. Coeliac disease: clinical presentations, correlations of dietary compliance, symptomatic response and repeat biopsy findings. The Ulster Medical Journal. 1992 Oct;61(2):134-8.

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