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Gluten-related disorders is a broad term for all conditions triggered by eating foods containing a protein called gluten. Gluten acts like a glue that holds food together and can be found in foods like breads, pastas and noodles. Everyone with gluten-related diseases and disorders has a reaction to eating gluten, but why, the type of reaction, and when symptoms appear, is different for each one.1
Many people who think they have a wheat allergy actually have celiac disease or non-celiac gluten sensitivity (NCGS) and vice versa. The gastrointestinal symptoms of all three gluten related disorders can seem similar, and the fact that they all seem to be caused by wheat can make them difficult to diagnose. However, the three are distinct.
People with a wheat allergy have an allergic response to eating wheat.
People with celiac disease have an autoimmune response to eating gluten. Meaning, that when consumed, the body responds with a response that attacks the small intestine. These attacks lead to damage on the villi, small fingerlike projections that line the small intestine, that promote nutrient absorption. When the villi get damaged, nutrients cannot be absorbed properly into the body.2
People with NCGS don’t have an autoimmune or allergic reaction to gluten, but still cannot eat it without having symptoms.
So, how do you know which disorder is causing your symptoms? There is testing that can help your healthcare professional identify underlying allergic triggers and autoimmune markers of celiac disease.
You may be avoiding wheat or the gluten-containing foods you think caused a reaction. Many people are so accustomed to living with – and being embarrassed by – their uncomfortable gastrointestinal problems that they never consider asking for help. But finding out what’s causing your symptoms may provide relief now – and also help you avoid more serious issues in the future. There are long-term complications from undiagnosed gluten-related disorders: Untreated celiac disease can lead to issues including intestinal cancers, iron deficiency anemia, early onset osteoporosis and infertility.3
So, how do you know if your symptoms are caused by a wheat allergy, celiac disease or non-celiac gluten sensitivity? If you think you or a loved one has a gluten-related disorder, don’t try to manage the problem on your own. A simple blood test—together with your medical history—can help differentiate between allergy, celiac disease, and other conditions.