The connection between IBS and Celiac Disease

Reviewed by: HU Medical Review Board | Last reviewed December 2022

Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and celiac disease are 2 different gastrointestinal (GI) conditions. They are often confused because the symptoms can be very similar.1

It is common to have IBS-like symptoms with celiac disease. It is also common for celiac disease to be misdiagnosed as IBS. Research shows that 5 to 15 percent of people diagnosed with celiac disease were first diagnosed with IBS. For this reason, it is essential to have an accurate diagnosis.1

What is celiac disease?

Celiac disease is an autoimmune condition that damages the gut. For people with celiac disease, eating gluten – a protein found in wheat, barley, and rye – sets off an immune reaction in the small intestine. This leads to painful symptoms that can last hours or even days.2-4

Because the immune system sees gluten as a threat, the gut is unable to absorb the nutrients it needs to thrive. This can lead to vitamin and mineral deficiencies.2-4

How common is celiac disease?

Celiac disease is relatively uncommon, although rates are increasing worldwide. About 1 percent of people have celiac disease, but experts believe it is underdiagnosed. Celiac disease is more common in non-Hispanic white people. It can affect children as well as adults.3

What are the symptoms of celiac disease?

Like IBS, many of the symptoms of celiac disease affect the digestive system. Symptoms can affect other areas of the body as well. These signs and symptoms are:2,4

  • Chronic diarrhea
  • Fatigue
  • Bloating
  • Constipation
  • Persistent stomach pain
  • Brain fog and headaches
  • Infertility
  • Vitamin deficiencies, such as iron deficiency (anemia)
  • Growth problems or delayed puberty in children
  • Itchy skin

When IBS and celiac disease overlap

Much of the overlap between IBS and celiac disease is a person’s symptoms. These symptoms are triggered by eating gluten – both in people with celiac disease and people with IBS.1-5

It is possible to have celiac disease and IBS at the same time. Specific types of IBS are more prone to celiac disease. According to a 2020 study, it is more common in people who have IBS with diarrhea (IBS-D) and IBS with mixed bowel habits (IBS-M). It is not as common in people with IBS with constipation (IBS-C).1,4,5

How is celiac disease treated?

Since gluten is a trigger for both IBS and celiac disease, a strict gluten-free diet is the first line of treatment. Cutting out gluten from your diet can help to relieve symptoms. A gluten-free diet has been shown to be effective for both digestive disorders.1,4,5

Work with a gastroenterologist and a nutritionist to develop a meal plan that is right for you. They can help you manage symptoms and get back to living your life symptom-free.1,4,5

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