About 30% of those with celiac disease have an issue with their spleen not functioning properly or is underactive. I’m going to talk about what the spleen does, how the spleen is affected by celiac, and how that is related to Covid-19.
The spleen is a really important organ. All organs are important but you can live without a spleen. The spleen is located in the upper left quadrant of your abdomen. It helps filter your blood cells to get rid of the old cells that are broken or just not needed anymore. The spleen also stores red blood cells, platelets, and white blood cells. When the spleen detects a virus or bacteria it generates white blood cells to fight the invader.
Some people have had their spleens removed due to an accident or disease. Other organs in the body, like the liver or lymph nodes can take over the functions of the spleen. But removal of the spleen puts you at higher risk for certain infections. Most specifically, there is a higher risk for pneumonia and serious complications from the pneumonia. This is why it is recommended for those with celiac to get the pneumonia vaccine earlier than those without celiac.
About 30%, of those with celiac have a low functioning spleen. They think it may be related to an ongoing folate deficiency. Those with refractory celiac, EATL, other autoimmune disorders, diagnosis at an “old” age (not sure what old age is, doesn’t specify), and those with a history of major infection and/or sepsis. How do you test for spleen function? Doctors look at blood under a microscope to determine if it is “pitted” or there are little divots in the red blood cells. There are more complicated tests, too, but that should be the starting point.
Why is all of this information about your spleen important, especially right now. Two days ago, I looked at the Coeliac UK site and they had a link saying that people with hyposplenism (low functioning spleen) had a higher risk of complications from Covid-19. Today, that information has changed. I started writing this article without checking the information today. The BeyondCeliac web site says that anyone with hyposplenism and celiac are at higher risk for any infection, including Covid-19.
I think the information is still valid about hyposplenism and celiac, but my information about it making someone more susceptible to Covid-19 is evolving. Anyway, the current recommendations for those with spleen disease are at risk for more infections and more severe disease in general. I’m not a doctor, but I think people with hyposplenism and celiac should be extra careful during this pandemic. It can’t hurt!
This is simply information to add to your pile of information about celiac disease. It is to help you understand celiac disease and its various complications. It is something to discuss with your doctor if you are having significant recurring septic infections, pneumonia, and potentially the pneumonia vaccine.
As always during this pandemic wash your hands, practice social distancing, and follow the recommendations from your local public health officials.