Gluten Intolerance Symptoms – How Do You Know If Gluten Is Making You Sick?

How do you recognize the symptoms of gluten intolerance? Research indicates that sensitivity to gluten, whether mild forms of gluten intolerance or the more serious celiac disease, affects approximately 15% of the U.S. population. Are you one of these people?

What the heck is Gluten?

Gluten is a protein found naturally in wheat, rye, and barley. Gluten intolerance is an adverse reaction to gluten. Symptoms of gluten intolerance may be varied and come on slowly over a period of time, thus making it hard to pinpoint, like many food intolerances.

What is celiac disease?

Celiac disease is an immune system reaction to gluten. Celiac disease damages the small intestine and makes it hard for your body to absorb the nutrients in food and because of this, malnutrition is a serious symptom of the disease.

It takes just a small amount of gluten to cause intestinal damage in persons with celiac disease, which is why it is so important for them to avoid gluten.

Celiac disease is serious. While about 1% of Americans have been diagnosed with this disorder, it has been estimated that many more are undiagnosed. Some estimate that 1 out of every 133 Americans may have celiac disease.

So what are the specific symptoms of gluten intolerance and celiac disease?

The symptoms of gluten sensitivity are varied and can sometimes seem unrelated. Because of this, some people may not suspect that gluten is what’s making them feel bad. Some lists of symptoms contain over 200 items! With a list like that, it may seem at first impossible to determine whether gluten is the culprit.

One thing to pay attention to is how you feel after consuming various foods. While eating a vegetable salad or piece of fruit may not affect you, the bloating and nausea you feel after that sandwich on wheat bread or slice of pizza might be telling you something. Usually, people start to see a pattern if they are vigilant about keeping track of their diet.

Since gluten intolerance stems from the body’s inability to digest gluten properly, it probably comes as no surprise that many symptoms are gastrointestinal, such as

  • Stomach pain or bloating
  • Gas and/or cramps
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Constipation
  • Diarrhea
  • Acid Reflux (GERD)
  • Heartburn
  • Irritable Bowel Syndrome

What may surprise you is that many people with gluten sensitivity or celiac disease also experience other non-gastrointestinal symptoms that seem unrelated, such as

  • Anemia
  • Weight Loss or Weight Gain
  • Canker sores
  • Aching joints
  • Depression
  • Fatigue
  • Itchy skin
  • Rash or hives
  • Headaches
  • Irritability and behavioral changes
  • Fat in the stools (due to poor digestion)
  • Slow infant and child growth

The thing is, just like lots of other conditions, every individual with gluten intolerance is different. Some people are able to tolerate small amounts of gluten without experiencing negative symptoms. For others, even small amounts of gluten can trigger a response.

Not everyone will experience the same symptoms either, and that’s what makes diagnosing gluten intolerance a challenge sometimes.

How to diagnose celiac disease and gluten intolerance

It can be challenging to diagnose gluten intolerance and celiac disease simply because of the variety of symptoms. The symptoms are also similar to other diseases and conditions.

Doctors can now do a test to determine if there are elevated levels of antibodies to gluten in the blood. It is important that you eat a normal diet before getting tested for gluten intolerance. Many people mistakenly stop consuming gluten before deciding to get tested, but you must continue to eat foods with gluten before the tests or otherwise, your test will be useless.

Testing isn’t perfect by any means, and no test will determine beyond a doubt whether you have celiac disease. If your blood test indicates that you may have sensitivity to gluten, and your doctor strongly suspects you have celiac disease, he may suggest that you have a biopsy of your small intestine to determine if there is any damage.

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Your Turn. What Are Your Experiences?

Have you had some of the symptoms of gluten intolerance? Have you been tested? What things have you found to be most helpful in living a gluten-free lifestyle and following a gluten-free diet? Leave your comments!

P.S. We’ve got a helpful list of gluten-free foods to help you. It also includes a list of foods you should avoid.

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  1. Hi Peeps.

    I’ve been living with a gluten and lactose intolerance for a few years now.
    My reaction to gluten is insidious, it creeps up slowly and is difficult to notice at first. This is one of the reasons why I found it so hard to diagnose.

    Even now I have relapses where I start eating gluten again, then slowly but surely the sickness comes back. It makes me depressed and lethargic, tired and achy all over.

    Its so hard to put your finger down on gluten intolerance as it is to describe the symptoms you experience because of it.

    Doctors have been NO help.
    I recommend sticking with your convictions and going off gluten if you feel it is making you sick.

    Life is so much better without it for me.

  2. im think working with bread yeast his making me feel ill

  3. Thanks for your article! It was extrememly informational for someone who has never read into gluten-intolerance. For the past year or two I have been waking up daily with stomach and bowl irritability. Sometimes it will be so severe that I will wake up and within 30 seconds i’ll be puking or having intestinal distress. I’ve seen 3 different doctors and had a stomach biopsy to check for complications. The stomach biopsy found no problems and all my doctors have simply recommended lifestyle and dietary changes by avoiding acidic foods later in the night. I’ve found it helps 50/50 but i still wake up almost every morning with ‘morning sickness’ type symptoms that make it hard to have a normal day. I have recently been reading up on gluten-intolerance and the affects that it has on your body and I have found that I usually experience multiple symptoms every day, varying in severity. I am going to try cutting out most foods containing gluten and limit my intake over the next few weeks to track any potential progress in my condition. I know nothing is definitive unless you get lab work done, but I have seen too many doctors with no positive answers. If anyone has anything they can share or any personal experiences that are similar to mine I would love to hear about it.

  4. For the last 10 or so years, I have had a redness around the area of my mouth (where the ‘parenthesis’ are) and then it fades as it gets down towards my chin. It never affected my daily life–I used make-up to help cover and blend it–but I did get special make-up and lotions, thinking my ‘moisture barrier’ was broken, as my Clinique specialist suggested. I never once though about gluten; even when the redness seemed to get worse and started spreading to my T-Zone. Then, I decided to try a diet, in which part of it was eliminating Gluten altogether, and within two weeks, my skin cleared up; not just my face, but the chronic ‘dryness’ that I had never really realized I had, all over my body. I also felt less bloated and ‘full’ all the time, and–thankfully–those pesky headaches/migraines that I used to get ALL THE TIME, pretty much disappeared. I also significantly reduced my percentage of nights with heartburn down to 0%. I had an inkling that this could because of cutting the gluten out, so one night I tried one ‘birthday cake oreo’ (made with wheat flour) and within hours, a little red patch appeared below my mouth, and I felt bloated. I now notice that after having something with gluten in it, I get tired, headaches, bloated, and that redness/dryness appears, and lately, I notice I have some swelling, mostly in my ankles. To be clear, I have not gotten tested for gluten sensitivity (simply because I am lucky that it affects me so minimally and doesn’t alter my daily life), so I am not 100% certain that I HAVE a sensitivity to gluten, but after reading many articles and studying symptoms and information about
    “Gluten Sensitivity/Intolerance without Celiacs” vs. “Celiacs Disease”, I am quite certain about the former. I have also had others tell me their symptoms and similar stories, and that they for sure DO have a Gluten sensitivity/intolerance. Having said that, I have altered my diet to exclude gluten and there is definitely a change in my skin, body, and how I feel overall from day to day. I am now one of the first people to tell others that gluten sensitivity can come in so many shapes and forms; It can be life threatening and closely mimic Celiacs, or it can be a minor annoyance with a small skin flare-up, like mine. Whatever the case, I hope my story/experience can help others to get on the right track with diagnosis, or help provide some answers as to what may be ailing them.