Celiac disease (CED) is immune-mediated enteropathy caused by gluten intolerance affecting genetically predisposed individuals. CED may exert a number of various symptoms, including extra intestinal manifestations.
Neurological symptoms can be the first sign of gluten intolerance. However, affected autonomic nervous system (ANS) activity may be linked to other symptoms. We evaluated the frequency of ANS impairment and resting ANS response to several stimuli in CED patients without neurological manifestations. Twenty five neurologically asymptomatic patients with CED were studied. The medical history was taken and ANS activity was determined.
ANS tests included heart rate variability (HRV) at rest and after stimulation (sympathetic - stress, and parasympathetic - deep breathing). The results were compared with those of the control group comprising of 30 healthy asymptomatic volunteers. Both the resting HRV parameters and the HRV indices recorded after deep breathing (parasympathetic stimulation) were significantly lower in patients with CED than in the controls (P<0.05). Also the stress-induced increase in normalized low frequency parameter (LFnu) was significantly lower in the CED group than in the control group (P<0.05). Overall, about 20% of CED patients presented with parasympathetic dominancy but 36% with sympathetic dominancy, and 44% of patients did not show changes in sympathetic-vagal balance of the autonomic nervous system.
We conclude that sympathetic-parasympathetic imbalance, in favour of more often sympathetic than parasympathetic overactivity occurs among neurologically asymptomatic CED patients. The ANS impairment observed in the course of CED may result from prolonged intestinal inflammation. Therefore, routine ANS testing might be considered in patients presenting with this condition.