(Time) – Celiac disease, an autoimmune disorder that causes intestinal damage when a person eats gluten, is still something of a medical mystery. But a new Swedish study adds another piece to the puzzle.
People with celiac disease have a 2.5-fold increased risk of developing neuropathy, or nerve damage, found a new study published in JAMA Neurology. In the new nationwide study, pediatrician Dr. Jonas F. Ludvigsson, professor of clinical epidemiology at Karolinska Institutet in Sweden, and his team wanted to look at the risk of developing neuropathy in a sample of people diagnosed with celiac disease. They gathered data from every person diagnosed with celiac disease in Sweden between 1969 and 2008—28,232 celiac sufferers in all. Each of them had been tested with a small-intestine biopsy.
(Most of them, interestingly, were women. About 60% of people with celiac disease are women; more females than males are diagnosed with autoimmune disorders, Ludvigsson says, for a reason researchers haven’t yet determined.)
For every celiac patient, Ludvigsson also found five people identical in age, sex, birth year and place of residence in Sweden as controls. He followed them for an average of 10 years to see who developed a diagnosis of neuropathy.