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Celiac or Non-Celiac Gluten Sensitivity: What Is It and Why You Need To Know The Difference

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Celiac or Non-Celiac Gluten Sensitivity: What Is It and Why You Need To Know The Difference

Jun 19, 2020

Celiac disease and non-celiac gluten sensitivity are growing concerns among American adults. Are you one of the growing number of people to self-diagnose celiac disease? Are you familiar with gluten sensitivities that aren't caused by celiac disease? 

Going on a gluten-free diet has become a trend in American society. There are some people who can benefit from eliminating gluten from their diets. Those who do so to improve their health may end up doing more harm than good. People with either celiac disease or wheat sensitivity can benefit from a gluten-free diet, but only after getting an accurate diagnosis.

A decade ago, most people didn’t even know what gluten was. Today, there’s an ever-growing selection of gluten-free products for sale at the grocery store. There’s also a lot of information online about the problems some people have from consuming gluten. They might think that it doesn’t matter which condition they have if the gluten-free diet reduces their symptoms. Even though the symptoms might be similar, the potential risk of complications from celiac disease is much stronger.

Grains containing gluten

What is Celiac Disease?

People with celiac disease experience an immune response when they eat wheat, rye, barley, or oats. Symptoms can start during early childhood or during adulthood. Symptoms vary from person to person and include abdominal bloating and pain, vomiting, constipation, chronic diarrhea, weight loss, or fatigue. Some people who test positive for the disorder never experience any symptoms.

Celiac disease leads to damage of the villi which line the intestinal wall. This prevents nutrients from being absorbed, leading to serious conditions like iron and other types of deficiencies. Some people develop seizures or migraines, canker sores inside the mouth, and may suffer from depression or anxiety.

Untreated celiac disease can result in long-term health complications. The person might develop early osteoporosis, infertility or miscarriage, nervous system disorders, or pancreatic insufficiency. It isn’t just the symptoms that need to be treated. It’s the damage that untreated celiac disease can cause without the person’s knowledge.

What is Non-Celiac Gluten Sensitivity?

Non-celiac gluten sensitivity differs from celiac disease in a number of ways. Although the symptoms are similar, the symptoms aren’t caused by an immune response. Experts suspect that the symptoms occur in response to other ingredients in wheat, such as oligo-, di-, and monosaccharides. NCGS also doesn’t cause damage to the intestine.

Like celiac disease, symptoms of gluten sensitivity improve when gluten is removed from the diet. The difference is that celiac disease causes damage to the intestine while gluten sensitivity does not. Damage can be permanent, this is another reason that a diagnosis is so important.

How is Celiac Disease Diagnosed?

Celiac disease is diagnosed by testing the blood test for certain types of antibodies. The most common test used is the tTG-IgA test. If the blood test indicates celiac disease, a biopsy of the small intestine is normally the next step. This allows the GI doctor to confirm the diagnosis and alerts them to any damage that has already occurred to the intestine.

Self-diagnosis based on symptoms can easily lead to the wrong diagnosis of celiac disease or gluten sensitivity. The only method of treatment for gluten sensitivity is a gluten-free diet. The potential harm of a wrong diagnosis is more likely when the person assumes they have a gluten sensitivity when they have celiac disease. 

All it takes is a simple blood test to ensure you aren’t at risk from long-term complications. If you don’t have the symptoms of celiac disease or gluten sensitivity, a gluten-free diet isn’t the best choice for you. If you do have symptoms, it’s important to find out the cause. Self-diagnosing can prevent you from getting the treatment you need. Contact Carolina Digestive Health Associates endoscopy center for an accurate diagnosis of your symptoms.