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Apr 01, 2014

Celiac Disease Linked to Increased Heart Disease Risk

Study suggests inflammation associated with celiac disease may increase risk for heart disease and stroke.

People with celiac disease may be twice as likely to develop heart disease compared to the general population, according to research presented at the American College of Cardiology’s 63rd Annual Scientific Session.

This study was the first of its kind to look at the association between celiac disease and heart disease. Celiac disease is a digestive condition that has become increasingly common over the years, now affecting one in 133 Americans. People with celiac disease often have chronic inflammation in their gut because they can’t tolerate gluten—a protein found in common grains such as wheat, rye and barley. And since inflammation has been linked to heart disease, researchers wondered if chronic inflammation in the gut might spell heart trouble for individuals living with celiac disease.

To test this theory, researchers obtained electronic health records of patients from 13 health care systems between Jan. 1999 and Sept. 2013. Out of more than 22 million patients included in the study, 24,530 were diagnosed with celiac disease. When analyzing the heart health of subjects, researchers found that 9.5% of patients with celiac disease had heart disease compared to 5.6% of other patients. Although celiac disease was less common among younger patients under the age of 65, heart disease risk among patients with celiac disease was still twice as high as the general study population. Researchers also found a slightly higher risk of stroke among people with celiac disease compared to “healthy” individuals.

R.D. Gajulapalli, MD, clinical associate at the Cleveland Clinic and co-investigator of the study, believes that the findings reinforce the idea that chronic inflammation negatively impacts cardiovascular health. “This is an important study because it highlights a specific patient population who might be at higher risk for coronary artery disease, even in the absence of traditional cardiovascular risk factors,” says Gajulapalli. “We were surprised by the strength of the association, especially in younger people. Patients and doctors should be aware of this association.”

Based on study findings, Gajulapalli encourages patients with celiac disease and other inflammatory diseases to maintain a healthy lifestyle and address any risk factors they may have for heart disease, such as high blood pressure and high cholesterol. Although further research is needed to better understand the link between celiac disease and cardiovascular risk, taking steps to improve heart health is always important to living a longer, healthier life.

Questions for You to Consider

  • What is inflammation?

  • Inflammation is our body’s natural response to injury or infection. Although inflammation can help rid our body of infections or intruders, it may also be a marker of heart disease.
  • How can I reduce inflammation?

  • Although some drugs might help reduce inflammation, reducing risk factors that cause inflammation is important, like quitting smoking, reducing blood pressure and lowering cholesterol.

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