can you be diagnosed with celiac disease over 60

Can you be diagnosed with celiac disease if you’re over 60?

The answer is yes. It is more common that you would think.

You may be surprised to hear a celiac disease diagnosis if you’re over 60, but the reality is this condition can strike at any time. In fact, it’s becoming increasingly clear that what was once considered a disease to be diagnosed during childhood, can develop at any stage during life, including the twilight years. Epidemiologic studies have suggested that a substantial portion of patients are diagnosed after the age of 50. Indeed, in one study, the median age at the diagnosis was just under the age of 50 with one-third of new patients diagnosed over the age of 65. Showing that you can  be diagnosed with celiac disease if you’re over 60.  The main concern is that despite growing awareness and knowledge about the condition, most physicians struggle to diagnose and manage celiac disease in elderly patients.

Most likely you had to seek medical advice on symptoms not immediately obvious as an intestinal condition. In fact, older patients usually present unusual symptoms, often leading to significant delays in diagnosis, which in turn increases the risk of morbidity and mortality. For some elderly patients, it can take up to 17 years and a multitude of incorrect diagnosis until physicians finally agree on celiac disease.

Why is it so difficult to diagnose?

For any patient, celiac disease can be an extremely difficult disease to diagnose, with a wide array of symptoms, varying from diarrhea to osteoporosis. However, for yet unknown reasons, the difficulty jumps to another level when it comes to older patients. The main issue is that typical intestinal symptoms are less common in these patients, which instead tend to present nutritional deficiencies or other secondary symptoms. For example, the vast majority of elderly patients only have anemia or low bone density as their main symptom at the time of diagnosis. In fact one study found that anemia is present in 60-80% of elderly patients with celiac disease and has been mainly attributed to the deficiency of micronutrients, particularly iron. Deficiencies of other nutrients such as folate and vitamin B12 were also common. Other autoimmune diseases are also frequently associated with celiac disease and may provide clues for suspicion of celiac disease in an elderly patient. Autoimmune thyroid disorders are the most common associated autoimmune diseases in elderly celiac patients, with majority of patients presenting with hypothyroidism. Those that do present more typical symptoms tend to complain about mild forms of flatulence and bloating, and don’t really make diagnosis any easier. The consequent delay can have serious repercussions, as the risk of developing other immune diseases or intestinal lymphoma is higher in elderly patients.

How to manage celiac disease?

Like for all other celiac disease patients, the treatment for your condition relies on a strict gluten-free diet. Most patients seem happy to try, but still the management of this condition presents its own specific challenges. Above all, habits of a life time are hard to break and dietary preferences are no exception. Then, there’s the issue of finding suitable gluten-free products – for someone with poor vision, reading the ingredient list can be a nightmare. Finally, patients may be able to achieve a gluten-free diet, but what about all the medication needed? Gluten is commonly used as a filler in many pills and capsules. So due diligence is needed with prescriptions.

This is where family support needs to come in! If possible, particularly in the case of patients with other health issues or advanced age, relatives should be actively involved in establishing the best care and minimise complications, such as recurrent bone fractures. In this case, a close follow-up is essential to detect any early signs of malabsorption as it takes longer for the intestine to heal in older patients.

In other words, a comprehensive and multidisciplinary approach tailored to the needs of each patient is the best way to reduce the risk of morbidity and mortality in these patients. But the good news is that with consistent and diligent elimination of gluten from the diet healing will begin and patients report feeling better than they have in years.


Comments ()

  1. Mary says:

    I’ve was diagnosed 10 years ago and I have 3 sisters who also have it. My question is, do you know why I can’t eat anything gluten free that is made with gluten free flour etc, like cakes, cookies or crackers. I will start to itch from the back of my head to the top of my back, it’s horrible! So I’m also limited from those things too! I’m 66 years old. Thank you

    1. GFT staff says:

      Mary, you are not the only one we have heard say this. We recommend whole unboxed, unprocessed foods. As far as to why, that is a question for a doctor who works with celiac disease. Our guess is that you may… and we hesitate to say it all but you may be a highly sensitive celiac and mixes may have something else in them that your system cannot tolerate. Sometimes we know of folks who have developed a sensitivity to other ingredients that are in GF foods. But again you may want to discuss this with a professional who is familiar with your situation.
      thank you for the question.

    2. Cejay says:

      Possibly an allergy to rice? It can happen, tho rare. I am 69, GF for 10 yrs. Rice, if eaten in large amounts or daily, gives me GI distress tho allergy test is negative. Other question,do you have a rash or breaking out with the itching? If so, you could possibly have DH (dermatitis herpetiformis) which is the skin manifestation of celiac. I have DH as well and it is sensitive to very low levels of gluten. So even a GF product can set it off; GF just means there’s less than 20 ppm of gluten in the food. Good luck solving this puzzle. Celiac disease is good at creating them. Cejay

    3. sandy says:

      It’s possible you are also allergic to ingredients they use in gluten free food. I have to be gluten free but I also can’t have tapioca, sorghum, amaranth and quinoa which are found in gluten free foods so I have to read extra hard to make sure my food is free of this. Going out to eat is also more of a nightmare because I can’t just order gluten free.

    4. Pat Sheek says:

      I had a prick food allergy test which showed 17 foods, including wheat, oats, barley and rye, but still had symptoms. I had a blood food allergy test and it showed 46 different foods, including milk, eggs and beans. Almost all the foods I reacted to were thiols, foods which naturally contain sulphur AND which move mercury in the body. I have all the symptoms of mercury toxicity and have had amalgams (silver fillings) removed from my teeth by a naturopathic dentist which protected me from breathing in the mercury while they ground it out of my teeth. I am now chelating toxins out of my body. Hope this helps.

  2. Barbara Hoffman says:

    I had no idea it was associated with osteoporosis which I have had since I was 50 or so and have been treated for it since that time. Now, in my 70s I have come down with celiac disease plus 2 other auto immune diseases, Sjogren’s Syndrome and Raynaux Syndrome.

  3. marjean says:

    Even if you read the labels and does not list any gluten can still have gluten..If there is something I really want to eat, go online and check if the product is indeed gluten free. Sometimes there are other reasons for a reaction..other allergies..I stick w/ things I KNOW are gluten free..fruits, vegetables, and some lunchmeat..If I crave, for instance, pumpkin bars I make my own and then I KNOW it is safe.

  4. Linda says:

    I had symptoms I (and doctors) thought were IBS for years, doubling me over in pain. My ex-husband thought I was just lazy when I would lay down to try to stop the pain. I’m 66 now and still suffer a lot from the damage done over the years. I almost want to run into my ex somewhere just to tell him that I was not lazy and had a real chronic disease that the doctors didn’t even know about when they thought it was IBS.

  5. Charlene says:

    I was diagnosed two year ago, at the age of 53. My only symptom that has now gone away, was pain that resulted in many ER visits on my right side, it would then radiate to the back also. I have an underactive thyroid, and can be gassy and bloated. Any stomach symptoms happened mostly on the weekends, so I just thought it was due to a different diet, than during the week. Had many tests, no results until my Rheumatologist discovered that I had a liver disfunction. After further blood tests, my gastroenteroligist found that I had Celiac Disease. I was previously diagnosed with IBS, because there wasn’t any unusual results to any other tests.

  6. Stacey says:

    I was diagnosed with UC several years ago. The dr. gave me a script for a medicine that resembled Tang when mixed in water. I was suppose to drink it immediately, wait 30 minutes before eating. On the third day of preparing this not-so-tasty drink, I had to stop for a bathroom break before I could drink it. When I can back, it had set up like really hard jello! In fact, even a steel wool pad couldn’t save the spoon and cup!! I refused to use that stuff again! I went back to the dr. and requested allergy testing but he dismissed it, saying again the it was UC. I’ve not been officially diagnosed with celiac disease and lactose intolerance, but the bloating, diarrhea after every bite of gluten, vomiting if I have dairy, joint pain, fibromyalgia, depression and anxiety, severe swelling in lower extremities, inability to lose wait, etc. all seem to point in the celiac disease direction. Any thoughts, recommendations, even critical comments are welcome. I’m just sick and tired of being sick and tired!!! 🙁

  7. Julia Joynt says:

    The endoscopist saw signs of coeliac disease while he was performing an oesophageal dilatation treating another auto immune disease – inclusion body myositis, and I have felt much better even after a few days of gluten free diet. I am 82.

  8. Jenn says:

    This is so interesting to read. My dad is 88 and we have never considered testing for celiac but his symptoms check almost every box in the symptoms lists I see online. Some things he’s had for many years but quite a few only appeared in the last 3-4 years. He acquired MRSA and c-difficule in the hospital after a gall bladder attack 4 years ago and I wonder if the trauma at that time might have triggered celiac. He also recently found he is hypothyroid. I think even if tests are inconclusive it would be worth a trial of gluten free eating to see if he feels better.

    1. GFT staff says:

      Jenn, a gluten free diet is a good idea. Even none celiac people find that gluten can cause some inflammation and when they go on a gf diet to cut down on the inflammation it does make them feel better. Your dad may find that he feels better too. We wish the best for him. Thank you for sharing.

  9. Diane Givens says:

    I was diagnosed with CD at the age of 60. I had anemia and my PCP sent me for a endoscopy and a colonoscopy to see if I had internal bleeding. The gastroenterologist immediately spotted some damage where some vili had been rubbed off or deteriorated because of the unknown DX of CD. I’m grateful he found it. I just wish I could “feel” some kind of difference in my health. I hear so many people who go gluten free and then say how much better they feel. I never had that benefit. My diet is now awful because I don’t really care about eating anymore. Eating is no longer something I can say I enjoy. I know there are GF products out there but it’s just not anything compared to “normal eating”. I have now been GF for close to 8 years. It’s like being told you’ve got a bad case of the flu when you are feeling wonderful. Sorry to complain; but, it sucks!

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