Understanding Celiac Disease and Gluten Intolerance

Many may consider a gluten-free diet to be a fad diet to help lose weight; however, a gluten-free diet is required for people who have celiac disease or a gluten intolerance. In fact, eliminating gluten from your diet if not required for health reasons can cause nutritional deficiencies.

If you, a friend or a family member has been recently diagnosed with celiac disease or gluten intolerance, you may feel overwhelmed or uncertain. Learn more about celiac disease and gluten intolerance so you can make informed decisions about what is best for you or your family.

What Is Celiac Disease?

If you've only recently heard about Celiac disease from a diagnosis, it can be frightening at first to hear the word "disease". However, for many people, receiving the diagnosis can be the first step of a healthier, more comfortable life through treatment for the symptoms you've been experiencing.

Celiac disease is an autoimmune disorder in which the immune system reacts to gluten in the small intestine by attacking the body instead of the trigger: gluten. Gluten is a protein commonly found in grains like wheat, rye, and barley. It can also be found in any number of products. Over time, undiagnosed or untreated celiac disease can result in damage to the small intestine.

Symptoms of celiac disease can range in severity from person to person. Common symptoms may include:

  • Anemia
  • Diarrhea, abdominal pain, bloating or a persistent feeling of fullness
  • Gas, heartburn or constipation
  • Weight loss
  • Headaches, fatigue, nausea

Celiac disease is much more common than many people realize. Approximately 1.8 million people in the United States have been diagnosed, but many more may have it that have not yet been diagnosed.

It is a genetic condition that may not have been identified yet within the family. If you or a family member has experienced any of the symptoms, there are tests available to detect the presence of the gene.

What Is Gluten Intolerance or Sensitivity?

Another term that is often used interchangeably with celiac disease is gluten intolerance. They are, however, completely different conditions.

Gluten intolerance is formally referred to as gluten sensitivity or non-celiac gluten sensitivity. It is indicated when there are symptoms, but tests show a lack of the tell-tale genes, antibodies, or intestinal damage that is seen with celiac disease. Though there are no tests to diagnose gluten sensitivity, the condition can be diagnosed upon ruling out celiac disease through testing and endoscopy procedures.

Symptoms of gluten sensitivity are most commonly non-gastrointestinal in nature, although some people do experience GI discomfort. Other symptoms of gluten sensitivity can include:

  • Brain fogginess
  • Headache
  • Skin conditions like eczema
  • Joint pain or numbness in the extremities

Since the damage to the small intestine seen with celiac is absent in those with a sensitivity to gluten, it is generally considered a less severe condition. Symptoms may decrease quickly by following a gluten-free diet.

Some studies indicate that 0.5–6% of people around the world may live with gluten sensitivity, although the exact numbers are difficult to tell.

What is the Difference Between Celiac Disease and Gluten Intolerance?

Celiac disease and gluten intolerance share similar symptoms; however, there are some characteristics of celiac disease that show a clear distinction between the two conditions.

What Happens After a Diagnosis?

After a diagnosis of celiac disease or gluten intolerance, your physician will recommend working with a dietitian to learn how to live with a gluten-free diet. Your dietitian will help you learn all the foods that contain gluten.

If you have developed anemia, you may be put on a regimen of vitamins and supplements. Oral vitamins and minerals can be prescribed if you can tolerate pills. However, for those that are unable to absorb vitamins, your supplements may be administered by injection.

Starting Your Gluten-Free Lifestyle With The Gluten-Free Mall

If you or a family member has recently been diagnosed with celiac disease or gluten intolerance, The Gluten-Free Mall is here to help make shopping for your needs simple. We offer a large selection of gluten-free foods from trusted brands.

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