These are often used interchangeably, although they are quite different. So, what’s the difference between celiac disease, gluten intolerance, or a wheat allergy? 

Celiac Disease

  • Celiac disease is an auto-immune disease
  • It’s hereditary, meaning you must have the gene in order to have celiac, but just having the gene doesn’t mean you will ever develop it
  • Can develop suddenly in response to illness, injury, pregnancy, or stress
  • The body’s immune cells respond to ingested gluten proteins by attacking the body’s own small intestine
    • The villi that line the small intestine is where nutrient absorption occurs
    • Celiac disease causes some of the body’s white blood cells (lymphocytes) to attack the villi in response to the gluten “invader”
    • The villi become blunted or flattened
    • Nutrient absorption is reduced
  • Symptoms include gastrointestinal issues like diarrhea and constipation, stomach pain, weight loss, anemia, fatigue, and joint pain
  • 100% gluten avoidance is the only treatment; there is no cure

Gluten Intolerance

  • A person without diagnosed celiac disease or without the celiac genes may develop an intolerance to gluten
  • Gluten proteins cause temporary changes in the gut lining in most people, and some people are more sensitive than others
  • Symptoms may be the same as celiac symptoms
  • There is no reliable test to know if you are intolerant; it’s a diagnosis of exclusion
  • Avoiding gluten in the diet is the way to treat gluten intolerance 

Wheat Allergy

  • An allergy to wheat is different than celiac disease or gluten intolerance
  • Allergies are a different type of immune response 
  • Inhalation of wheat, not just ingestion, can cause this reaction
  • Symptoms of a wheat allergy
    • Hives, rash
    • Swelling of throat
    • Congestion
    • Difficulty breathing
    • Anaphylaxis 
  • Treat wheat allergy by avoiding wheat and always carrying antihistamines and an epi-pen in case of allergic reaction

If you suspect you have an intolerance, allergy, or celiac disease, go see your physician and ask for a celiac panel blood test or an allergy test.

Am I Intolerant, Allergic, or Have Celiac?
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