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
- Acid Reflux (GERD)
- 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
- Weight Loss or Weight Gain
- Canker sores
- Aching joints
- Itchy skin
- Rash or hives
- 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.