The neurology of coeliac disease in childhood: what is the evidence? A systematic review and meta-analysis


Dr Elena Lionetti at the Department of Pediatrics, University of Catania, Via S. Sofia, 78, 95125-Catania, Italy. E-mail:


Aim  The aim of this article was to review and conduct a meta-analysis of the paediatric literature on the neurology of coeliac disease.

Method  We conducted a review of paediatric studies published in English assessing neurological illness in coeliac disease identified through a MEDLINE search (1950–2009). Calculation of computed relative risk, odds ratio, and risk difference was performed using the fixed effect method if applicable.

Results  Fifteen studies were analysed (11 772 participants). The meta-analysis showed that (1) the relative risk of epilepsy in individuals with coeliac disease, and of coeliac disease in individuals with epilepsy, compared with the general population, was 2.1 and 1.7, respectively, and the risk difference was close to zero, indicating that it was probably a chance association; and (2) the relative risk of headache in individuals with the disease compared with comparison groups was 3.2. In two studies, cerebellar ataxia was documented in 2.7 to 5.4% of participants; in two further studies, the risk of cerebellar dysfunction was zero. Two studies found an association between coeliac disease and peripheral neuropathy. Brain white matter lesions were recorded in two other studies. An association between autism and coeliac disease is disputed.

Interpretation  Children with coeliac disease are at risk of developing neurological complications, but the risk is lower than in adulthood. The discrepancy might be due to short disease duration, early elimination of gluten from the diet, stricter adherence to diet, or different susceptibility to immune-mediated disorders.