Gluten intolerance, or non-celiac gluten sensitivity, shares some of the same symptoms as celiac disease but is generally a less severe condition. It can cause considerable discomfort, diarrhea, bloating, abdominal pain, and more.
Gluten intolerance is often mistaken for celiac disease, but they are separate conditions. Celiac disease is a severe autoimmune disease, and it can damage a person’s digestive system.
Unlike celiac disease, however, it is unclear why the symptoms of gluten intolerance happen, but it does not appear to involve the immune system or damage the gastrointestinal or GI tract.
People also, sometimes, mistake gluten intolerance for a wheat allergy.
A wheat allergy can be life-threatening, as some symptoms can impair breathing or cause a loss of consciousness, which is not the case with celiac disease or gluten intolerance.
The symptoms of gluten intolerance are less severe than celiac disease or a wheat allergy, and people know much less about the condition.
This article will outline seven symptoms that people associate with gluten intolerance, and which foods contain gluten.
Many of these symptoms occur shortly after consuming gluten. However, the exact combination of symptoms can vary.
People who report gluten intolerance note the following symptoms as some of the most commonly occurring ones when they include glutenous foods in their usual diet.
1. Diarrhea and constipation
Symptoms of gluten intolerance may include constipation, fatigue, headaches, and nausea.
Those who report gluten intolerance say regular instances of diarrhea and constipation are a common symptom.
Occasionally having such digestive issues is normal, but experiencing them on most days can indicate an underlying condition.
People with celiac disease may also experience diarrhea and constipation. They may also have poop that smells particularly unpleasant, as the condition causes poor nutrient absorption.
Another very common symptom that people report in cases of gluten intolerance is bloating. This refers to the feeling of a full stomach that is uncomfortable and lasting. It is common also to feel a buildup of gas.
Over-eating is the most common reason for bloating, but it can happen for a number of different reasons. In people with gluten intolerance, the feeling of bloating may occur very regularly and is not necessarily related to the amount of food they eat.
3. Abdominal pain
Similarly, several different causes can lead to abdominal pain. But, again, those reporting gluten intolerance often note experiencing abdominal pain frequently and without another obvious reason.
Fatigue is another symptom that people may find hard to identify, as it can have a lot of different causes, many of which are not related to any medical condition.
People with gluten intolerance may have persistent feelings of tiredness that impair daily functioning.
People with gluten intolerance may also experience nausea, particularly after consuming a meal containing gluten. Nausea can have many causes, but if it often occurs after eating gluten it can be a sign of gluten intolerance.
Experiencing regular headaches is another symptom that can occur in people with gluten intolerance.
7. Other symptoms
People with gluten intolerance may experience several of these symptoms on a regular basis.
It is also possible for other symptoms to occur with gluten intolerance, although they are less common.
These may include:
- joint and muscle pain
- depression or anxiety
- severe abdominal pain
It is essential to ensure first that a more severe condition, such as celiac disease or a wheat allergy, is not present if gluten intolerance is suspected.
Taking a blood sample, which is then analyzed to detect the presence of antibodies that could indicate celiac disease or a wheat allergy, can often do this. In some cases, other tests may also be necessary.
Once a doctor has ruled out a more serious condition, it can still be difficult for them to confirm whether gluten intolerance is present, as there are no tests for this.
The most common method people use to determine if gluten intolerance is present is to reduce or remove gluten from a diet and monitor changes in symptoms.
It can help for a person to keep a food diary to record what foods they are consuming and what symptoms they are having.
Foods that contain gluten include wheat, rye, and pasta, among others.
People who have a gluten intolerance try to avoid any food with gluten in it, which includes any food that contains:
- wheat, and any derivatives of wheat, such as spelt
- barley, including malt
- brewer’s yeast that is usually derived from beer
This policy of elimination rules out many different types of foods and drinks. The most common foods and drinks containing gluten include:
- bread and pastries
- many baked goods
- pancakes, waffles, and crepes
- many sauces and gravies
- malt beverages
It is vital for people to be aware that celiac disease only affects around 1 percent of the population.
Similarly, some estimates put the prevalence of gluten intolerance at between
These conditions are uncommon, but the symptoms associated with them are widespread and they have many potential causes. This means that it can be easy to misidentify gluten intolerance.
The problem is worsened by dieting trends that suggest consuming gluten has adverse health implications.
There is little research to suggest that excluding gluten from a diet will have any health benefits for people who do not have a medical condition, such as celiac disease or a wheat allergy.
Even for those people who are identified as having gluten intolerance it is unclear how much benefit they receive from following a gluten-free diet.
How to reduce gluten intake
While people with celiac disease must exclude gluten from their diet as soon as a doctor has diagnosed the condition, many people with gluten intolerance slowly reduce the consumption of gluten, rather than cutting it out straightaway.
It can help if a person starts by including one gluten-free meal per day before slowly adding more.
It may not be beneficial for everyone with gluten intolerance to cut gluten out of their diet entirely, as people’s symptoms will vary in their severity.
Some people may be able to consume small amounts of gluten without experiencing any symptoms.
The majority of people with gluten intolerance, however, may want to eliminate gluten from their diet gradually.
People who suspect they have a gluten intolerance should seek medical attention before making any dietary changes themselves.
If someone does not have celiac disease but feels better when they reduce their consumption of gluten, they must take care when making dietary changes.
Care is essential so that they avoid adverse health consequences, such as vitamin deficiencies.