An increasing number of Americans are avoiding gluten, the proteins found in wheat, rye, and barley. Many people find they have an intolerance to this protein, causing digestive distress and other symptoms, while others are diagnosed with a condition called celiac disease. About 1 in 100 people suffer from celiac disease. While there are no clear estimates about how many Americans have gluten intolerance, experts think it could be as high as 6 percent of population. Read on to learn more about the difference between gluten intolerance and celiac disease.
While both gluten intolerance and celiac disease manifest with similar symptoms, the causes of these issues are different. People in both categories who consume gluten will experience digestive symptoms such as bloating, gas, pain, and diarrhea, and also may have non-digestive symptoms like fatigue, headaches, joint pain, attention deficit, and other neurological issues. However, celiac disease is an inherited auto-immune disorder in which gluten causes inflammation in the small intestine. The cause of gluten intolerance is unknown, though most experts suspect that symptoms are caused by a stress response, which is different than the immune response caused by celiac.In most cases, while symptoms of intolerance are similar to celiac disease, they are typically less intense and last for shorter periods of time. In addition, once gluten is removed from the system, inflammation goes away and symptoms disappear. By contrast, the inflammation caused by celiac disease builds up over time and may be present even when the person avoids gluten. Left untreated, celiac disease can cause infertility, osteoporosis, arthritis, dermatitis, and chronic fatigue.
If you are experience digestive symptoms after eating products with gluten, such as bread, cereal, rice, or pasta, talk with your doctor. He or she may recommend testing both for a gluten allergy and for celiac disease. This typically involves a blood test after a period of time during which gluten is consumed, and, if celiac disease is suspected, an intestinal biopsy. In both cases, the symptoms are treated with the avoidance of foods that contain gluten; however, patients with celiac disease may be prescribed medications that resolve their immunological symptoms.