Have an itchy rash? It could be celiac disease

Celiac Disease Illustration, Health Network News

You might be surprised to learn that a rash on your skin might be related to food.

SUMMARY: Dermatitis herpetiformis is a medical condition that occurs in a subset of people with autoimmune sensitivity to gluten. It usually presents with an itchy rash.

You may have heard of celiac disease, a genetic autoimmune disorder that causes damage to the small intestine when gluten-based foods (such as wheat) are eaten.

But what you may not know is that celiac disease can manifest with many health conditions that are not in the gut. One of the most uncomfortable of these is dermatitis herpetiformis, an extremely itchy, blistering rash.

Symptoms of dermatitis herpetiformis

Symptoms of dermatitis herpetiformis can come and go. When signs and symptoms are present, they include:

  • Extremely itchy rash consisting of blisters or bumps, typically on the back, elbows, knees, and buttocks.
  • The rash is usually present on both sides of the body with a similar shape and size on each side.
  • Sometimes the rash looks peeling or cracked, like eczema
  • Because the rash is so unpleasantly itchy, some sufferers present with visible scratch marks on their skin, instead of blisters or bumps.
  • People with dermatitis herpetiformis may have no digestive symptoms, even though the cause is diet related.

What to do if you have a a rash that fits any of these symptoms

The most important thing to do is to see your doctor. Do not try to go on a gluten-free diet before seeing your doctor because the test results may not be accurate if you do not have gluten in your diet and the symptoms wane.

Since untreated celiac disease can lead to several health conditions including intestinal cancers, it is important to get properly evaluated. Treatment is a strict gluten-free diet, which causes the symptoms to resolve.

Dermatitis herpetiformis affects 10-15% of people with celiac disease. The name “herpetiformis” means “herpes like” because the blisters look similar to those caused by the herpes virus. It is important to know that, despite the name, dermatitis herpetiformis is not caused by or related to the herpes viurs. Instead, it is caused by eating or exposure to gluten.

Source: To learn more, we recommend the information on dermatitis herpetiformis presented on the Celiac Disease Foundation website.

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