What’s the Difference Between Celiac Disease and Gluten Intolerance?

Do you deal with regular gastrointestinal (GI) issues, like bloating, cramps, constipation or diarrhea after eating foods that contain gluten? You might think you have Celiac disease. But there’s a good chance you’re actually experiencing gluten intolerance or even a wheat allergy instead.

It can be difficult to tell the difference between celiac disease and a gluten intolerance, but with the right information and tests, you can get to the bottom of your persistent symptoms.

What is Celiac Disease?

Celiac disease is an autoimmune disease, which means that your body’s cells turn against themselves. When you have celiac disease, your body gets triggered by gluten, and your autoimmune cells attack the lining of the gut.

Due to the constant insult from your own cells, the lining of the gut becomes flattened, which inhibits proper absorption of minerals and nutrients.

If you don’t have all the minerals and nutrients your body needs to function, then you’ll start to have symptoms. Celiac disease can cause over 200 different symptoms ranging from GI issues or even a “foggy mind,” depression, ADHD, chronic fatigue, or bone or joint pain. In some rare cases, celiac disease can lead to cancer.

Even though going gluten free has been a big trend in the health world over the last couple of years, Celiac disease only affects about 1 percent of the population. And 83 percent of that 1 percent are undiagnosed. You may or may not be having symptoms, and the disease can be activated at any age.

Celiac disease is genetic, which means you have to inherit it. The genes can be activated after your first consumption of gluten, or activation can occur after a period of high stress or trauma.

What is Gluten Sensitivity?

Also known as non-celiac gluten sensitivity (NCGS), gluten sensitivity or intolerance is believed to be an immune system reaction, but not all physicians agree it exists.

In 2011, researchers put forth a hypothesis that has yet to be validated. They believe that a person with gluten intolerance experiences a direct attack on the lining of the intestine by the gluten. Rather than the body attacking itself in response to the gluten.

Gluten intolerance is different even from a wheat allergy in which the immunoglobulin E (IgE) is activated in response to a wheat protein.

So unlike celiac disease and a wheat allergy, no tests have been established to identify gluten intolerance. If you believe you have a gluten intolerance, then the only way to be diagnosed is by ruling out celiac disease and a wheat allergy first.

A doctor needs to perform tests for these two diagnoses. If nothing comes back, then you can follow a gluten-free diet to see if that helps. If symptoms resolve, then you can be diagnosed with NCGS.

Final Thoughts

Many people have jumped on the gluten-free bandwagon in the past few years, but celiac disease is very uncommon.

You may have a wheat allergy. Or you could have a gluten intolerance, but even then physicians aren’t in agreement that it exists.

Gastrointestinal symptoms can be caused by numerous things. If a gluten-free diet doesn’t help your symptoms, then you may be better off keeping the pasta as you search for other causes like lactose intolerance or other food intolerances.

Image via Thinkstock

47 comments

Cindy S
Cindy Smith4 months ago

thank you

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Cindy S
Past Member 4 months ago

thanks

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Janis K
Janis K5 months ago

Thanks for sharing.

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Cathy B
Cathy B5 months ago

Thank you.

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Cathy B
Cathy B5 months ago

Thank you.

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Winn A
Winn A5 months ago

Thanks

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Jaime J
Jaime J5 months ago

Thank You!!

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Amanda M
Amanda McConnell5 months ago

Thanks for sharing

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Amanda M
Amanda McConnell5 months ago

Thanks for sharing

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Cate S
Cate S5 months ago

I have been off wheat for 30 years & gluten for 25. It is much easier now than 30 years ago.

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