Miscarriage More Common Among Women With Undiagnosed Celiac Disease

Women with undiagnosed celiac disease may be twice as likely as other women to suffer from repeated miscarriages. However, once women are diagnosed, treatment with the gluten-free diet appears to improve their chances of carrying their babies to term.

Fresh wheat plants in a field
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Based on this, women who have experienced repeated miscarriages might want to consider screening for celiac disease, according to the authors of several medical studies.

How Celiac Disease Affects Pregnancy

Celiac disease is a hereditary, autoimmune disorder that impacts millions of people around the world. In fact, experts estimate that about 2.5 million Americans have undiagnosed celiac disease. Patients with celiac disease are unable to eat foods with gluten, a name for proteins found in wheat, barley, rye, and triticale (a cross between wheat and rye). If they do ingest gluten, the immune system responds with an attack on the small intestine.

Because the small intestine—in particular the villi in the lining—plays a critical role in digestion and the body's absorption of nutrients from food, patients with damaged villi can suffer from vitamin and mineral deficiencies, or even malnourishment, because the body cannot effectively process food.

If a pregnant woman has undiagnosed celiac disease, it can have a serious impact on her ability to sustain a developing fetus or lead to intrauterine growth restriction.

Celiac Disease Linked to Miscarriage, Stillbirths

Medical researchers, plus some obstetrician-gynecologists, often realize that undiagnosed celiac disease could cause infertility in both men and women. The link between celiac disease and miscarriage also is receiving increasing attention.

In a 2010 study looking at the reproductive life cycle of Italian women, the researchers found nearly twice as many miscarriages in those with celiac disease than in women without the condition.

One team of medical researchers reported the rate of "spontaneous abortion" (i.e., miscarriage) among women with untreated celiac disease is nearly nine times higher.

Generally, the researchers blame malnutrition from untreated celiac disease for the miscarriages, although several studies didn't find major signs of malnutrition—with the exception of iron deficiency anemia—in the women who had miscarried. It's possible that another mechanism involving gluten antibodies and the immune system is to blame, some researchers speculate.

Gluten-Free Diet Can Prevent Miscarriages in Celiac Women

Fortunately, most cases of celiac disease are treatable with a gluten-free diet. Once gluten is removed from the diet, symptoms stop, intestinal damage heals, and the body can once again effectively absorb nutrients. Research shows that women diagnosed with celiac disease who adopt a gluten-free diet can overcome their histories of repeated miscarriages and carry babies to term.

For example, one small study published in 2008 followed 13 women with recurrent miscarriages who were diagnosed with celiac disease and who began to follow the gluten-free diet. Six of the 13 women became pregnant—one within one year of starting the gluten-free diet, three within two years of starting the diet, one after three years and one after four years. Two of the women had multiple pregnancies—one had two children and another had three children within the seven-year follow-up period to the study.

Additional studies, plus anecdotal evidence from women with a history of miscarriage who were later diagnosed with celiac disease, support these findings.

Should You Be Screened for Celiac Disease If You've Had a Miscarriage?

Since many people who test positive for celiac disease do not exhibit overt celiac disease symptoms, it's difficult to tell without testing if your miscarriages could be related to gluten consumption. Some infertility specialists, but not all, recommend routine celiac disease screening for patients who have experienced unexplained infertility or recurrent miscarriages.

Positive celiac disease tests are more common among women who previously had been diagnosed with irritable bowel syndrome, but they also occur in women who don't report gastrointestinal symptoms.

If you think celiac disease could be responsible for your recurrent miscarriages, talk to your doctor about testing for the condition.

Frequently Asked Questions

Why does celiac disease cause infertility and miscarriage?

Vitamins and minerals are an important building block for health, and this is especially important when trying to conceive and during pregnancy. Because celiac disease disrupts the small intestine's function, it can interfere with fertility and fetal development (which can in turn lead to miscarriage).

Will celiac disease go away during pregnancy?

No. Celiac disease is a life-long condition, and this will not change with pregnancy.

Will eating gluten with celiac disease cause a miscarriage?

If you have celiac disease and are expecting a child, it is important to manage your condition. Maintain a gluten-free diet to avoid intestinal damage and ensure that your body is effectively absorbing the vitamins and minerals that you—and your baby—need.

A Word From Verywell

A diagnosis of celiac disease can be scary, but for women who have suffered miscarriage, understanding how the condition may have impacted their pregnancy is important. Fortunately, celiac disease can be effectively managed with a gluten-free diet. This is also true for women with celiac who are expecting; staying gluten-free is an important part of a healthy pregnancy.

If you have suffered a miscarriage and suspect that gluten sensitivity or celiac disease may be to blame, talk with your doctor.

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