For most people, there’s no reason to give up gluten for good.
But that’s not so easy for folks with two gluten-related medical conditions: celiac disease and gluten intolerance, according to Dr. Sarmed Sami, a gastroenterologist at Mayo Clinic Healthcare in London.
In recent years, there has been a growing awareness of gluten-related issues, leading many people to question whether they might be affected by conditions like celiac disease or gluten intolerance. While both conditions involve sensitivity to gluten, they are distinct in their mechanisms, symptoms, and long-term implications. In this article, we will explore the key differences between celiac disease and gluten intolerance to help you better understand these often misunderstood conditions.
Celiac Disease: An Autoimmune Disorder
Gluten is a protein found in grains including wheat, barley and rye.
In people with celiac disease, eating it triggers an autoimmune reaction that causes cell damage to the small intestine. That reaction can cause diarrhea, fatigue, weight loss, bloating, anemia and lead to serious complications, Sami says.
Symptoms of Celiac Disease
Celiac disease can manifest with a wide range of symptoms, making it a challenging condition to diagnose. Some common symptoms include:
- Digestive Issues: These can include abdominal pain, diarrhea, bloating, and constipation.
- Fatigue: Many individuals with celiac disease experience persistent fatigue and weakness.
- Skin Problems: Skin rashes like dermatitis herpetiformis can occur.
- Weight Loss: Unexplained weight loss may be a sign of celiac disease.
- Nutritional Deficiencies: Due to impaired nutrient absorption, individuals with celiac disease may develop deficiencies in vitamins and minerals, such as iron, calcium, and vitamin D.
- Neurological Symptoms: Some people with celiac disease experience neurological symptoms like headaches and neuropathy.
- Joint Pain: Joint pain and inflammation can also be associated with celiac disease.
It’s important to note that not everyone with celiac disease experiences obvious digestive symptoms. Some individuals may have what’s known as “silent celiac disease,” where they exhibit no noticeable symptoms, but intestinal damage still occurs.
Diagnosis and Treatment
To diagnose celiac disease, doctors start with a blood test to determine whether the body views gluten as an invader and reacts by generating high levels of antibodies. After a positive blood test, an endoscopy can take biopsies to check for damage in the small intestine.
“We typically recommend that people should not be on a gluten-free diet if they are being tested for celiac disease, because that can create false negative results on the blood test,” Sami adds.
The only effective treatment for celiac disease is a strict lifelong gluten-free diet. This means avoiding