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The Difference Between Celiac Disease, Gluten Allergy & Gluten Sensitivity

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In our previous article on gluten-free diets, we discussed the trend of people eating gluten-free whether they have Celiac Disease or not. Today, we will focus on those of you who do definitely have an inability or difficulty digesting gluten. While there are common symptoms across the board for anyone with gluten sensitivity, how you would manage your gluten condition does differ between Celiac Disease, a gluten allergy, or non-celiac gluten sensitivity (NCGS).

Today we will discuss the commonalities and differences between these three gluten-related conditions. If you believe that you or a family member may have one of these, we hope this information will help you narrow down which one to ask your doctor about.


Celiac Disease

  • If you have Celiac Disease, your immune system does not digest gluten properly and you have an autoimmune disorder. When you consume any food with gluten, your immune system will cause damage to your small intestine’s villi. Villi are the tiny hair-like projections on the surface of your small intestine that help digest food. Continuous contact with gluten can ruin your villi and affect your ability to absorb nutrients to your body. Celiac Disease can cause malnutrition, intestinal damage, and other serious health problems.
  • Symptoms for children with Celiac Disease include constipation, chronic diarrhea, abdominal pain and bloating, nausea and pale stool.
  • oct30-1Symptoms for adults with Celiac Disease include headaches, joint pain, osteoporosis, anemia, mouth canker sores, fatigue, depression, skipped menstrual periods, miscarriages and fertility issues.
  • Treatment for Celiac Disease consists of following a strict gluten-free diet. The long-term effects of Celiac Disease on both children and adults can lead to severe malnutrition and other health issues. It is important to get educated about what products in your daily life contain gluten. Don’t forget to check with your doctor about any medications, vitamins, herbs and liquids that may contain gluten.


Gluten Allergy

  • Gluten allergy, or more specifically, wheat allergy is most prevalent in children. While gluten is present in other grain products like rye or barley, wheat is most common. A wheat allergy means that your immune system is reacting to proteins like but not limited to gluten that are present in wheat. Often, children will grow out of a wheat allergy before they are teenagers. While Celiac Disease is rare, wheat allergies are one of the major food allergies in the US.
  • Young woman scratching her face having allergy skin problem

    Symptoms of wheat allergy include rash, hives, eye discomfort, nasal congestion, irritated mouth and throat, nausea, diarrhea, and troubled breathing.
  • Treatment for wheat allergy calls for eliminating all wheat products from your diet and lifestyle. Ask you allergist which non-wheat grain products are safe for you, and what medications are best to use if you have an allergic reaction.


Non-Celiac Gluten Sensitivity

  • While you can be tested to verify a Celiac Disease diagnosis, or confirm a wheat allergy, there is still ongoing research into why you would suffer from symptoms even though you do not have the first two conditions. If you find that you experience symptoms (see below) after eating gluten, you may have non-celiac gluten sensitivity (NCGS). It is important to keep a detailed food diary and record of your symptoms to bring to your doctor.
  • Symptoms of NCGS include bloating, abdominal pain, fatigue, headache, and mental fatigue (slow to recall information or process thoughts).
  • Treatment for NCGS is very specific to your level of sensitivity. You may find that certain gluten food affects you more than others, or that you can handle all gluten products if only consumed in limited quantities and on occasion. Observe how strongly you react and adjust your diet accordingly.

As you can see, while there are common symptoms such as nausea, bloating, constipation, diarrhea, and abdominal pain, there are also very different and distinct symptoms that are specific to each condition. Whether you have Celiac Disease, wheat allergy, or NCGS, your symptoms and treatment needs will differ. Remember it is very important that you do not diagnose yourself – your doctor will be able to perform the correct tests and talk to you about a treatment and management plan.

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