Gluten is a common protein produced by a variety of different grains, including oats, wheat and barley. For reasons that are poorly understood, some people develop an intolerance to gluten, in which their immune system mounts an attack on the lining of the small intestine whenever they eat gluten. Gluten intolerance, which is also called celiac disease, can cause a variety of different, sometimes unexpected, symptoms. One possible symptom is nerve damage, which may cause tingling sensations in the hands and feet.
Nerve damage, which is also known as neuropathy, is one possible consequence of a gluten intolerance. The long nerves that connect the brain to the hands and feet are often the first to become damaged in cases of neuropathy. When these nerves are damaged, they often malfunction, which can cause the nerves to stop sending signals, resulting in numbness. Or, the nerves can send incorrect signals, resulting in odd burning or tingling sensations in the hands or feet, explains MedlinePlus.
Doctors do not fully understand why gluten intolerance may cause nerve damage leading to tingling sensations in the feet. One theory is that the mistaken immune response triggered by gluten leads to other incorrect immune responses throughout the body, including immune attacks against the peripheral nerves leading to the hands and feet, explains an article published in the November 2006 issue of the "Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery & Psychiatry." When the immune system mistakenly attacks the body, the response is known as an autoimmune reaction.
In addition to neuropathy, gluten intolerance may lead to a wide range of symptoms affecting many different parts of the body. Possible symptoms include thinning bones, bone pain, osteoporosis, muscle or joint pain, muscle spasms or cramps, arthritis and possibly, seizures. People with gluten intolerance also frequently suffer from a skin condition called dermatitis herpetiformis, which causes an irritating, itchy rash. Fatigue, depression and anxiety are also possible, reports the National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse.
Because the initial immune reaction to gluten occurs in the intestines, gastrointestinal symptoms may also occur, including nausea and vomiting. Diarrhea is a common symptom, which may be chronic or may alternate with constipation. Frequent abdominal pain, gas, bloating and indigestion are also possible. Left untreated, gluten intolerance can lead to severe damage of the intestines, rendering the intestines unable to absorb nutrients from food. In cases of intestinal damage, unexplained weight loss and malnutrition may develop, warns MedlinePlus.
- National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse: Celiac Disease; Kelly Ciaran et al.; September 2008
- MedlinePlus: Celiac Disease – Sprue; David C. Dugdale et al.; January 2010
- University of Maryland Medical Center: Celiac Sprue
- "Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery & Psychiatry"; M. Hadjivassiliou et al.; November 2006
- MedlinePlus: Peripheral Neuropathy; David C Dugdale et al.; August 2010
- Hemera Technologies/Photos.com/Getty Images
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