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What is gluten intolerance? How is it different to coeliac disease?

Coeliac disease is an autoimmune disorder, when the body’s immune system attacks the lining of the small intestine after gluten is eaten. Symptoms include fatigue, diarrhoea, sharp pains, bloating. It can also cause deficiencies in some nutrients, as the lining of the small intestine cannot absorb anything once it has been damaged. Some people with coeliac disease do not experience any symptoms at all, however, their intestinal lining is still being damaged if they consume gluten. This is why it is important to cease eating gluten if diagnosed with coeliac disease, even if the symptoms experienced aren’t painful.

 

The way to diagnose coeliac disease comes down to a number of tests conducted by a doctor, such as a gastroenterologist. Coeliac disease can be detected by blood tests and a biopsy of the small intestine. There are strict guidelines to follow during coeliac testing to ensure correct diagnosis.

 

Gluten sensitivity or intolerance is when the body is sensitive to gluten. The symptoms can be very similar to those who have coeliac disease, however, people who have intolerance do not permanently damage their intestinal lining like those who have coeliac disease.

 

It is important to not jump to conclusions about symptoms such as bloating, stomach pain, wind, diarrhoea or constipation. Restricting foods or cutting out all “gluten-containing” products may not be the issue. It could be a different issue, such as dairy, wheat or FODMAP intolerance, IBS or another form of intolerance. Restricting foods from your diet could potentially alleviate some symptoms, however, it can also cause deficiencies of important nutrients. It is important to consult with a dietitian or doctor to discuss dietary habits, perform a blood test and investigate the symptoms properly.