Celiac Disease and Raynaud’s – Do They Go Together?

Depositphotos_1763419_sAutoimmune diseases, probably owing to a non-specific and poorly understood immunological response, often overlap or occur together.  That is, a patient with one diagnosed condition will commonly be found to have features of one or more other autoimmune diseases.  It appears, according to numerous anecdotal reports and a few case studies of patient experiences, those with celiac disease may indeed be included in this group, despite very little official information on or acknowledgement of the connection.

Why are the symptoms of Raynaud’s present in those with celiac disease?

Raynaud’s phenomenon is a condition where poor circulation caused by vessel spasms in the extremities – and less commonly in other lightly vascularized areas such as ears, nose and nipples – leads to sometimes painful discoloration of the fingers and toes, often accompanied by numbness or tingling.  It may be primary or secondary, and can be triggered by cold, stress or tobacco smoking.  The primary form, which is known as Raynaud’s disease, occurs on its own, without any other obvious cause; in contrast, the secondary form, which is known as Raynaud’s syndrome, occurs as a result of another disorder, such as an autoimmune disease.  While the primary form is more common, the secondary form has the potential for much more serious complications, such as ulcerations and gangrene. We are concerned here with the latter type, which is relevant to a discussion of autoimmunity and related conditions.

The short answer about the connection between the two diseases is that we don’t know.  Like so much surrounding autoimmune diseases and their manifestations, science and medicine have yet to fully elucidate many of the causes and mechanisms involved.  In very general terms (which don’t tell us all that much), it is assumed that whatever autoimmune process is at work attacking other parts of the body is also responsible for attacking parts of the blood vessels, causing them to spasm and induce symptoms.  But even this is based on anecdotal evidence and not scientific evidence, and there is still a lot about autoimmune disease we simply don’t comprehend.

Is there an established connection between Raynaud’s and celiac disease?

There was only one article found, published in 2003 in the American Journal of Gastroenterology as a letter to the editor, which directly addresses the issue of this connection.  The study was conducted in Rome, Italy and considered 335 patients.  Their hypothesis was that the two diseases were associated, meaning that a person with Raynaud’s is more likely to have celiac disease than is the general population.  The study results did not find a connection, and stated that a link between the two diseases would have to be attributed to their common root in inflammation and autoimmune phenomena in the people found to have both conditions.

However, a related article covering Raynaud’s and celiac disease had a response from a registered nurse linked to it, citing a physician’s corroboration regarding the connection between celiac and Raynaud’s phenomenon.

In addition, there was a single case report found of an atypical case of celiac disease in a young girl that involved Raynaud’s.  Regrettably, these are among the weakest types of research reports, because they detail the course of only one patient’s disease without any formal experimental setup.

Are there any studies about improvement in Raynaud’s symptoms (or severity of symptoms) on a gluten-free diet?

There have been no formal scientific studies about Raynaud’s symptom improvement on a gluten free diet.  This is not to say that the purported link between the two conditions is not real.  It is clear from several anecdotal reports on message boards that some patients do experience this correlation and a change in symptoms after eliminating gluten.

If I have Raynaud’s, should I eliminate food with gluten even if I’m not diagnosed with celiac?

Given the information above, it is hard to make a case for empirical elimination of gluten products in the absence of a celiac diagnosis, even when Raynaud’s is present.  You may want to consider testing for gluten sensitivity if you have tested negative for celiac antibodies.

Except in rare circumstances, there is generally nothing dangerous or unhealthy about being on a gluten-free diet, and if you think that your Raynaud’s may be related, there is no harm in giving it a try to see what happens.  Regardless, this is something that should be discussed with your health care provider, since all patients are different and there may be additional considerations.

Questions for your doctor:

  • Have you seen an association between Raynaud’s and celiac disease in your practice?  If so, how often?
  • Should I consider a gluten-free diet even if I haven’t been diagnosed with celiac (for Raynaud’s symptom improvement or any other reasons)?
  • If I have both, should I do anything different in terms of treatment and alleviation of either or both conditions?

 

About the Author
Dr. Rothbard is a professional medical writer and consultant based in New York City, specializing in medical education articles targeted at a variety of audiences, from children through clinicians.  After leaving medicine, he worked as a biology and medical science educator for several years, before deciding to pursue writing full-time.  He may be reached at [email protected].

This post contains opinions of the author.  AutoimmuneMom.com is not a medical practice and does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment.  It is your responsibility to seek diagnosis, treatment, and advice from qualified providers based on your condition and particular circumstances.  Camino Real Ventures, Inc., the company that makes AutoimmuneMom.com available to you, does not endorse nor recommend any products, practices, treatment methods, tests, physicians, service providers, procedures, clinical trials, opinions or information available on this website.  Your use of the website is subject to our Terms of Use and Privacy Policy

Comments

  1. I was diagnosed with celiac when I had a particularly bad flare up with my Raynaud’s. I think for me my Raynaud’a is secondary to celiac. But its too early to tell if going gluten free will help. I hope so

  2. I have had raynards for a few years and due to low iron, vit D and calcium, even when taking supplements I am now being tested for celiacs. Just waiting for the results.

  3. My mind is blown…. I have psoriasis, narcolepsy, and raynaud’s. I always thought the 3 were separate, unrelated issues. Researching today I have found out that all 3 are connected to Celiac. I guess I should go get tested for Celiac disease now. I have been eating a (95%) paleo diet lately though and have noticed that the Raynaud’s has been less severe since I stopped eating as much bread/gluten-containing products.

  4. Just got my results back, negative to celiacs. Now being referred on, may need an endoscopy and colonoscopy to rule out anything sinister. Now enjoying the warmer weather and less raynauds!

  5. I have Celiac, Raynaud’s, Narcolepsy and Young-Onset Parkinson’s diseases, all purported to be auto- immune. I’ve been gluten-free for years, plus dairy and more recently, oats and processed foods. Although, as you can imagine, I cheat with processed foods, and foods made with milk, mainly chocolate…so I’m ill occasionally. However, I NEVER cheat with gluten, butter or oats, And, sadly, There has been no change in my Raynaud’s condition except that it may be getting worse. The bout I had yesterday was so painful, I was in tears, in California!…and I normally have a pretty high pain threshold, or so I’m told…..I ordered motorcycle gloves that heat through the fingers. Hoping for the best. Especially for ski season. For PD, exercise is a huge relief. All are triggered by stress, so imagine it can’t hurt….Anyway, best of luck everyone…keep fighting!

  6. GlutenFree Now! says:

    About a year ago I suspected I had a gluten intolerance. My brother, sister, and mother have already found out so it wasn’t a big surprise to me. Around the same time I cam to the realization that my intolerance was getting worse I started getting really bad Raynaud’s symptoms. After being about 95% gluten free the past 9 months, I can confidently say that my Raynaud’s has gotten considerably better – despite the coldest winter we have had in a while. On a hunch, I was searching to see if I could find a connection because I am basically a geek then I found this article. It appears my theory was not so crazy afterall! It will be tough, but I am going to switch to gluten free beer and cut the remaining wheat artifacts out of my diet.

  7. I have wheat intolerance. If I eat wheat, I blow up, get windy, get pains in the chest (from reflux), get achy in the joints. I also have Raynaud’s. I have been trying to be completely wheat free since January, and the couple of times I have “broken out” and had something with wheat in it I have experienced extreme pain from the Raynaud’s. I am sure it is connected.

    • Katie Cleary says:

      Hi Sara, thanks so much for sharing those symptoms. I have a similar reaction and also feel there must be a connection to my Hashis.

  8. JP Mummey says:

    29 year old male in upstate NY. My raynauds symptoms have gotten worse for the last 3 years, to the point I considered moving my family south. In October I cut out grains, dairy, beans, and alcohol. This has been the coldest winter in the past 5 years and besides the following occasions I haven’t had a flare up.

    After 2 months without an issue,
    3 beers at a Bill’s game swelled my knuckles for 1 week.
    went back to strict and symptoms cleared
    2 days of my wife’s homemade egg rolls (wheat) sent me spiralling into swelling and pain for 2 solid weeks.
    convinced it was the wheat, I resumed strict and cleared up.
    then last month I ate 2 large portions of what was supposed to be gluten free tuna casserole, but after a violent flare up I did some digging and found wheat in the cream of mushroom base.

    so during the time I have been extremely strict, I have experienced a 100% symptom free winter. words can’t express how relieving that is. more importantly, it’s mind blowing how trivial amounts of gluten have completely derailed me for weeks on end. strict is hard, but it’s the only way for me.

  9. male, 38 years, scientist :)

    I have Raynaud’s disease – my fingers and toes go white in slightly cold weather sometimes, not always. When I go skiing, even with warm gloves, they almost always go white and numb. I also occasionally get extremely bad gas (ask my kids), but I’m not sure exactly what causes it. Milk chocolate and some kinds of beer each sometimes lead to bad consequences. That would seem to relate some sort of problem with my ability to digest both gluten (or some other thing in beer) and lactose (or some other thing in chocolate).

    Digging around, I noticed a symptom of Celiac disease could be lactose intolerance. And if Raynaud’s is related, as posited here, then it would seem like maybe Celiac disease can explain many of my slightly bothering conditions. I’m not the type of guy to go to the doctor unless I have to, but I do like to do experiments. I may try experimenting with my diet to see if I can stimulate any good or bad affects. Dr. Rothbard, if you need anyone to add to a study, let me know. If any one else out there has an idea for an experiment, I’m ears.

  10. Dr. Rothbard, and others,

    One other thing. I read some where that traumatic events can trigger autoimmune responses. I also read that airplane flights, due the decompression and compression of intestines, cause people to have increased flatulence (New Zealand journal study). I have noticed that whenever I fly on a plane, I develop excessive gas. This then continues for a week or more.

    I wonder if airplane flights, due to their stress on the intestines, can cause problems in people with Celiac disease. After all, the volume of the intestine lining is changing severely over a short period of time. Does anyone out there who has Celiac disease have any increase in symptoms when they fly ?

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