The body of research surrounding gluten sensitivity grows every year alerting the medical community and people suffering from a wide range of symptoms to possible connections between seemingly untreatable medical conditions and gluten intolerance. Of note recently is the growing recognition of gluten sensitivity and gluten ataxia, a neurological condition affecting balance and coordination.
For decades, the medical profession has limited diagnosis of gluten intolerance to those patients who tested positive for celiac disease via an antigliadin antibodies test or endoscopy. Those patients who tested negative on these tests were told they didn't have celiac disease (CD) and that gluten was not their problem. The traditional medical mindset is celiac disease manifests primarily in gastrointestinal distress. Modern research shows that for every symptomatic patient with CD there are eight patients with CD with no GI symptom
Now we know, however, that gluten intolerance covers an entire range of symptoms including celiac disease, dermatitis herpetiformis (skin conditions associated with gluten sensitivity such as psoriasis or eczema), thyroid irregularities and other inflammatory and neurological conditions. In fact, a good number of people with gluten sensitivities don't have any gastrointestinal symptoms at all leading some doctors to disregard gluten as a root cause of symptoms.
In all cases, however, the body attacks gluten and resulting in a wide range of symptoms. Gluten ataxia is one of those symptoms caused by gluten sensitivity that may or may not be seen in conjunction with gastrointestinal distress.
By definition, ataxia is a condition affecting your muscle coordination during voluntary movements like walking or using your hands. Ataxia can also affect speech, your eyes and your swallowing reflex. Those who suffer from ataxia may find it difficult to grasp objects, walk up and down stairs, balance or successfully navigate doorways without running into them. On the extreme end, ataxia can drive patients to wheelchairs, prevent people from working or even interfere with the body's swallowing reflex.
Diagnosing gluten ataxia has been slow. Most often, doctors look for other underlying symptoms of ataxia including head trauma, stroke or multiple sclerosis. Additionally, few in the medical community have embraced the notion that a person without gastrointestinal symptoms could have a gluten sensitivity manifesting in other ways.
The work of Dr. Marios Hadjivassiliou in researching gluten ataxia has played a key role in encouraging patients to ask their doctors about this manifestation of gluten intolerance. Dr. Hadjivassiliou has documented correlations between ataxia and a heightened immune response to gluten. His work also pushes doctors to look beyond the gut when diagnosing gluten sensitivities.
Patients with unexplained coordination and balance problems should ask their doctor about the possibility of gluten ataxia whether they suffer from other known manifestations of gluten sensitivity or not.
Seeking a Cure
Eating a strict gluten free lifestyle can alleviate many of the symptoms of ataxia, just as the lifestyle can help those who suffer from celiac disease and skin conditions caused by gluten. It is also important for those who suffer from gluten ataxia to work with someone in the medical field who understands their diagnosis and will work with them on the root cause of the ataxia. The brain heals much more slowly than the intestinal tract and those with ataxia may take longer to heal and see a true remission of symptoms than those with primarily skin or bowel symptoms. A doctor specializing in gluten sensitivities and who takes a holistic approach to medicine is best suited to working with sufferers of ataxia.
Hope and help is out there for the growing number of people discovering the extent of gluten sensitivity including balance and coordination challenges stemming from gluten ataxia. The key is going to a doctor who knows how to properly test you so the root cause of your health challenge can be found.