Celiac disease is an autoimmune condition in which the body reacts to gluten in food by attacking its own tissues. This results in damage to the small intestine.

Celiac disease affects about 1 in every 100 people worldwide, according to the Celiac Disease Foundation.

It also has a strong hereditary component. This means that If you have a first-degree relative like a parent or sibling with the condition, your risk goes up to about 1 in 10, per the Celiac Disease Foundation.

Shingles, on the other hand, is a lot more common than celiac disease. This condition can affect anyone who’s ever had chickenpox.

About 1 in every 3 people gets shingles, and your risk goes up as you age. People with compromised immune systems are also more at risk, according to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS).

If you have celiac disease and have had chickenpox in the past, you might have an increased risk of developing shingles.

Let’s learn more about the possible association between the two conditions.

Shingles is not a symptom of celiac disease, but a similar-looking rash might be.

The most common symptoms of celiac disease are digestive symptoms, such as:

  • abdominal pain
  • bloating and gas
  • constipation
  • diarrhea
  • nausea and vomiting

You may lose weight, and you might also develop non-digestive symptoms like:

Some people with celiac disease develop a type of rash that could be mistaken for another type of skin condition or infection, like shingles.

Dermatitis herpetiformis is the name of the condition that causes skin symptoms that could be due to gluten. It is also known as Duhring’s disease. This is a chronic skin condition caused by an intolerance to gluten. In fact, most people who experience herpetiformis have celiac disease, according to the Celiac Disease Foundation.

Dermatitis herpetiformis is not the same as shingles, however.

Shingles is a reactivation of the virus that causes chickenpox. This virus, the herpes zoster virus, lies dormant in your body. If it gets reactivated, it can cause a painful rash or series of fluid-filled blisters. The pain can vary from uncomfortable to intense. Some people experience nerve pain long after the rash clears up.

Some research suggests that you may be more likely to develop shingles if you have celiac disease.

A 2018 study examined data from nearly 30,000 people with celiac disease over the course of almost 40 years to learn more about a possible link between celiac disease and the virus that causes shingles. The researchers found that the risk for herpes zoster was 1.62 times higher in people with celiac disease.

This increased risk persisted and remained “significant” even after 5 years. However, the researchers cautioned that despite this increased risk, the risk of developing shingles was still small.

And though the study showed that shingles risk was higher in people with celiac disease, this does not necessarily prove that the celiac disease itself was the cause for the increased risk of shingles.

Research, such as a 2017 study and a 2019 research review, shows that it is possible for a virus to trigger a person’s immune system to respond by developing an autoimmune disorder.

For example, the researchers of the 2019 review believe that viruses may trigger or affect the development of autoimmune diseases like:

Some of the viral infections that seem to be likely culprits for affecting or modulating the development of autoimmune conditions include:

The 2017 study suggests that some viruses may trigger a reaction to gluten. The study described how a common virus called a reovirus seemed to trigger the immune response that leads to celiac disease.

The research suggests that the virus leaves an impact, almost like a scar, on the immune system that increases the likelihood of a future autoimmune response to gluten.

Such information could be useful in guiding future recommendations about introducing gluten-containing foods to babies, according to the research. This is because they have still-developing immune systems and may be more vulnerable to viruses, especially if they have a genetic predisposition to celiac disease.

We already know that shingles can lead to some serious complications, such as postherpetic neuralgia, which is long-term nerve pain. According to the NINDS, some people with shingles develop complications like:

  • hearing and balance concerns
  • vision concerns
  • bacterial infections of the shingles blisters or rash
  • brain inflammation (encephalitis)

Shingles also slightly increases the risk of stroke.

Is it possible that the herpes zoster virus that leads to shingles could also contribute to gluten intolerance? More research is needed about this specific virus and its relationship to gluten intolerance.

People with compromised immune systems, including people who take immunosuppressants or have autoimmune conditions, are at increased risk for developing shingles.

So if you’ve had chickenpox in the past and you have celiac disease, it might be a good idea to speak with a doctor about your shingles risk.

You might ask if you’re a good candidate for shingles vaccination. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that adults over age 50 and adults over age 19 with weakened immune systems receive two doses of the vaccine to prevent shingles.