Those who have celiac disease have an allergy to gluten, a protein present in cereal grains like wheatberries, durum, emmer, semolina, spelt, farina, farro, graham, rye, barley and triticale. Gluten is what provides the elastic texture of bread, and it helps certain foods maintain their shape. Think of it as the “glue” that holds food together.
Gluten can be harmful to those with Celiac disease because the protein causes inflammation and damage to the small intestine, the location in which the body absorbs vitamins and essential nutrients from food. Malabsorption can result in malnutrition, weight loss, anemia and stunted growth.
Gluten Intolerance Symptoms
There are over 200 identified symptoms of celiac disease, which means that every case is unique. An estimated 1 percent of the U.S. population is allergic to gluten, but 83 percent of those individuals are undiagnosed.
So how do you know if you may be allergic to gluten? Some of the most common symptoms include:
- Abdominal pain
- Feeling tired or foggy
- Migraine headaches
- Dizziness and feeling off-balance
- Inflammation, pain or swelling in your joints
- Anxiety, depression and mood swings
- Hormone imbalances
- Diagnosis of chronic fatigue or fibromyalgia
How Gluten Allergy is Diagnosed
Many digestive conditions can present similar symptoms, so it is important to make an appointment with your doctor or gastroenterologist for proper testing. Celiac disease cannot be diagnosed by answering an online questionnaire or by eating a gluten free diet. It must be diagnosed by a healthcare professional through a blood test.
There are several types of blood tests that screen for celiac disease antibodies, but the tTG-IgA test is the most common. For the test to be effective, you must be consuming gluten. If celiac disease antibodies are present in your blood, your doctor may order a biopsy of your small intestine to confirm whether you are allergic to gluten.
Non-Celiac Gluten Sensitivity
Some people experience symptoms of a gluten allergy but do not have celiac disease. This is often known as non-celiac gluten sensitivity. Although the two conditions share similar symptoms, non-celiac gluten sensitivity does not cause intestinal damage. Research estimates that 18 million Americans have gluten sensitivity, six times the number of Americans who have celiac disease.
Make an Appointment with Your Doctor
Remember that celiac disease is a serious medical condition. If you have symptoms, do not ignore them. Make an appointment with your doctor. Working with your primary care physician, a board-certified gastroenterologist and a registered dietician can help you obtain an accurate diagnosis and prompt treatment.