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?
Getty Images/Peter Dazeley

You can have celiac disease if your main symptom is constipation, rather than diarrhea, and 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.

What Exactly Is Constipation?

You have constipation if you have fewer than three bowel movements a week. Occasional 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.

A large Italian study of digestive and non-digestive celiac disease symptoms at the time of diagnosis found that 13% of people had constipation, 15% had alternating constipation and diarrhea, and 27% had so-called "classic" diarrhea. Other digestive symptoms found in that study included: bloating (20% of people had it), mouth sores (18%), and reflux (12%).

Physicians are taking notice of this. For example, doctors conducting a study involving children in the Netherlands found celiac was "overrepresented" in children who had chronic constipation and who weren't helped by laxative treatment. They concluded such children should be tested routinely for celiac disease.

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.

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Article Sources
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