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Children's Health

Chronic pain recovery: Behaviour

02/02/2009

Question:

Hi there,

My 6 year old was recently diagnosed with Celiac Disease. This diagnosis brought great relief to her and our family as she`d been sick for pretty well her whole short life. Her main symptoms were pain, neuropathy and ataxia. She`s been gluten free for almost 2 months now and we have seen some wonderful changes in her. With those changes we`ve also seen some undesirable behaviour.

Because of her neuropathy she had major sensory issues for most of her life (actually appeared to be on the autism spectrum). Now that those issues are beginning to resolve she seems unmanageably hyper. She was always a thumb sucker and that seems to have gotten worse as well.

My thoughts are that she has energy now and doesn`t know how to deal with it, and as far as the thumbsucking goes, she spent 5 years not wanting to be touched and now she`s craving it so bad that she is self soothing. Could this be accurate?

My question is, how normal is it to have a child change so drastically following Chronic pain relief? Where do I start to help her manage her recovery, she really does seem to be feeling out of control.

I appreciate your time and look forward to your response!

Answer:

Thank you very much for the question.  I glad that your daughter is responding well to the treatment of her Celiac Disease.  There is a growing body of evidence which suggests that celiac disease is strongly associated with neurological and behavioral symptoms (ie. pain, headaches, depression and ADHD).  However, it is not clear whether Celiac Disease is specifically causing these problems, or that there may be other unknown factors that are linked to both Celiac Disease and these neurologic symptoms.  There is some evidence that the pain and headache symptoms resolve with a gluten-free diet, but the number of study participants was very low.

As for why she has become more hyper, I am not sure that I have an answer.  It could be that her behavior was being masked by the Celiac Disease, or that it is completely unrelated.  I believe it is worthwhile to have her behavior evaluated by your pediatrician.  He/she could start with some simple Vanderbilt Forms that can be completed by you and the child's teacher.  I have attached a link to the forms. 

As for the thumbsucking, please see the attached link from the AAP website for additional guidance.

Related Resources:

Pacifiers and Thumb Sucking
ADHD Web Resources

For more information:

Go to the Children's Health health topic, where you can:

Response by:

Stephen E Wilson, MD, MSc Stephen E Wilson, MD, MSc
Assistant Professor of Clinical Medicine
College of Medicine
University of Cincinnati