Can Celiac Disease Cause Short Stature?

Should every short stature child be tested to see if he or she has celiac disease? The answer, according to many medical researchers, is a resounding "yes."

Young boy being measured

Andrew Rich / Getty Images

People are considered to be of short stature if they're among the shortest 3 to 5% of the population. Short stature can sometimes be normal, but sometimes it can be related to a medical problem — and it's increasingly being recognized that short stature can be a symptom of celiac disease. In fact, it can sometimes be the only symptom of celiac disease.

In the December 2007 issue of the Journal of Gastroenterology and Hepatology, doctors in India who studied children with short stature reported that 15% of the children had celiac disease. Indeed, the doctors discovered that celiac disease was the single most common cause of short stature in the children in this particular study.

In the 1990s, Italian researchers who studied a group of children with short stature found that 59% of them had celiac disease. Celiac disease had already been linked to short stature in earlier studies of children in Italy, as well as in studies in Brazil and Iran.

None of the children with celiac disease and short stature in any of these studies had any gastrointestinal symptoms of celiac disease.

What This Means for You

In every study on this topic, researchers came to similar conclusions, namely:

  • Short stature can sometimes be the only symptom of celiac disease in children.
  • Short children should be tested for celiac disease, even if they have no gastrointestinal symptoms.

If your child is of short stature (or you are yourself), talk to a doctor about getting tested for celiac disease. Although confirmation of celiac disease would require a biopsy, a variety of blood tests (including genetic screening) can be done first to help decide whether a biopsy is called for.

Encouragingly, it's been found in some cases that when celiac disease is the cause of short stature, a gluten-free diet can be successful in improving a child's final height.

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