Is Celiac Disease More Common in Women?

woman with celiac disease talking to doctor
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Celiac disease is definitely diagnosed in girls and women more often than in boys and men. In fact, there's a huge difference in the number of females and males who have the condition: several studies have found that it's twice as likely in girls and women.

It's not clear why this is. Some researchers have speculated that women are more likely than men to seek help from a doctor for medical issues (men may tend to tough them out, especially young adult men). And at least one study shows that few young adult men are diagnosed with celiac disease.

But although men's reluctance to see a doctor may be a factor in these different diagnosis rates, it doesn't completely explain the difference. Women just get celiac disease more often than men – large studies have shown this.

Celiac disease is an autoimmune condition (a condition where your body's immune system mistakenly attacks your own tissue), and women generally have a much higher risk of autoimmune conditions than men. As with celiac disease, scientists haven't been able to completely explain the overall higher risk of autoimmune conditions in women, either.

Differences in How Celiac 'Looks' in Men and Women

There are also differences between the sexes in how celiac disease "looks" when it's diagnosed. Men and women who have the condition tend to show different celiac disease symptoms.

Women may have infertility or problems with their periods as their first sign of celiac disease. They may also have thyroid disorders, weak bones or anemia. They may not have any digestive symptoms, such as diarrhea, abdominal pain or bloating, or if they do have them, their digestive issues may not be very bad.

Men, meanwhile, are more likely to have the "classic" celiac symptoms of diarrhea and weight loss when they're first diagnosed with the condition, but this may be because they're more likely to wait to see a doctor. Men with celiac disease also are more likely than women to be underweight, to have reflux, and to have the itchy gluten-caused rash called dermatitis herpetiformis.

Possible Genetic Effects on Gender?

Finally, there may even be some gender differences in the way the risk of celiac disease is inherited.

Celiac is genetic: the vast majority of people diagnosed with it carry one of the celiac disease genes.

One study found that when a father has celiac disease, his daughters are more likely than his sons to someday develop the condition. That doesn't mean the sons won't ever develop it, just that the odds of eventually getting celiac are higher for women whose fathers also have the condition.

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