Can You Be Overweight and Still Have Celiac Disease?

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Are people with celiac disease always thin, or can they be overweight? Overweight people can definitely have celiac disease. The myth that all people with celiac disease are thin is one that turns out to be pretty far from the truth.

Why Is Celiac Disease Associated With Being Thin?

There are two main reasons why people often associate celiac disease with being very thin. First, years ago it was thought that celiac sprue—which is what celiac disease used to be called—only developed in babies and young children.

These young patients were usually extremely underweight for their age and don't grow fast enough, which is known as failure to thrive. This problem is one of the main celiac disease symptoms in children. But this is not the whole story for either children or adults.

Another reason why celiac disease is associated with being thin is that the disease damages the lining of the small intestine. Celiac disease can cause malnutrition due to malabsorption, in which nutrients can't be absorbed properly by the body. People with malabsorption are often underweight, which is why doctors did not usually consider a diagnosis of celiac disease in people who are overweight.

It's Possible to Be Overweight With Celiac Disease

Now, however, medical research has been showing that people with celiac disease are not always thin.

For example, in one study published in the Archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine in 2008, 11.2 percent of children diagnosed with celiac disease were actually overweight.

In another study in the American Journal of Gastroenterology published in 2010, 15.2 percent of adults with celiac disease were overweight when they were diagnosed and 6.8 percent were obese. Together, these outnumbered the 17.3 percent who were underweight. This is still a far smaller number of overweight and obese people than in the general population, but it shows that it is not rare for a person with celiac disease to be overweight.

In its Consensus Statement on Celiac Disease in 2004, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) cautioned doctors that, "The single most important step in diagnosing celiac disease is to first consider the disorder." These days, more and more doctors are realizing that the diagnosis of celiac disease should be considered in patients who are overweight, too.

One benefit to going gluten-free if you have celiac disease: studies have shown that weight tends to normalize, or revert to normal, once people with this condition adopt a gluten-free diet. If you're underweight, you may gain some weight and if you're overweight, you might actually see your waistline shrink.

A Word From Verywell

It is possible to be overweight and have celiac disease. While most people with celiac disease have one or more digestive symptoms, some do not. Screening for celiac disease is not done routinely if you don't have symptoms. Discuss any problems you have with your doctor so you can receive the appropriate tests, diagnosis, and treatment.

Sources:

Cheng J, Brar PS, Lee AR, Green PHR. Body Mass Index in Celiac Disease. Journal of Clinical Gastroenterology. 2010;44(4):267-271. doi:10.1097/mcg.0b013e3181b7ed58. 

National Institutes of Health Consensus Development Conference on Celiac Disease. National Institutes of Health. https://consensus.nih.gov/2004/2004CeliacDisease118html.htm.

Symptoms and Causes of Celiac Disease. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/digestive-diseases/celiac-disease/symptoms-causes.

Telega G, Bennet TR, Werlin S. Emerging New Clinical Patterns in the Presentation of Celiac Disease. Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine. 2008;162(2):164. doi:10.1001/archpediatrics.2007.38. 

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