Gluten related neurological conditions
Gluten related neurological symptoms can occur both in people with coeliac disease and with gluten sensitivity.
NICE guidelines recommend that serological testing for coeliac disease should be considered in people with unexplained neurological symptoms, particularly peripheral neuropathy or ataxia.
Ataxia is caused by damage to the cerebellum. Gluten ataxia is characterised by clumsiness, loss of balance and uncoordinated movement leading to a tendency to fall and slurred speech. A study of 1500 patients at a UK Ataxia Centre found that one in five patients had a family history of ataxia, while the remaining 80% did not. The most common cause of ataxia with no previous family history was gluten ataxia (25%).
Peripheral neuropathy is characterised by numbness and tingling, usually in the hands and feet but it can occur in other parts of the body. The most common form of neuropathy in people with coeliac disease involves both the motor and sensory nerves (sensorimotor axonal peripheral neuropathy) but other types of neuropathies have also been reported (e.g. pure sensory neuropathies).
Gluten encephalopathy can cause symptoms including severe headaches, brain fog, slow thinking and cognitive difficulties such as memory loss.
Diagnosis of gluten related neurological conditions
Screening for coeliac disease is recommended in people with unexplained neurological symptoms. Research has shown that another antibody, tissue transglutaminase 6 (tTG6) seems to be particularly associated with gluten related neurological conditions. At present, this test is only available at the Sheffield Institute of Gluten Related Disorders (SIGReD).