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.

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.

Gender Differences

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. The rate of miscarriage is also higher among women with celiac disease as is the incidence of low birth-rate (six times higher) and the risk of intrauterine growth retardation.

The following symptoms have also been found to be more prevalent in women than men:

  • Nausea/vomiting
  • Constipation
  • Malaise/fatigue
  • Autoimmune diseases
  • Depression
  • Osteoporosis
  • Fibromyalgia

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.

Men with celiac disease have also been found to experience reproductive problems, including hypogonadism, sexual dysfunction, or poor semen quality, resulting in increased infertility.

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Article Sources

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  1. Shah S, Leffler D. Celiac disease: an underappreciated issue in women’s health. Womens Health (Lond). 2010;6(5):753-66. doi:10.2217/whe.10.57

  2. Rubio-tapia A, Jansson-knodell CL, Rahim MW, See JA, Murray JA. Influence of gender on the clinical presentation and associated diseases in adults with celiac disease. Gac Med Mex. 2016;152(Suppl 2):38-46.

  3. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive Issues and Kidney Disease. Celiac disease and reproductive problems.

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