The 13 most common Symptoms of Gluten Intolerance

A woman holding wheat strands

Understanding Gluten Intolerance | Symptoms | Diagnosis | Managing Gluten Intolerance | Tips And Advice

The signs and symptoms of gluten intolerance can vary greatly and differ in children and adults. This article highlights how dietary and lifestyle changes can help in managing those symptoms.

Gluten has gained a lot of attention over the last few years. With the increase in people adopting gluten-free diet, many gluten-free food items have emerged in the market. Whether you have celiac disease or gluten sensitivity, gluten may trigger various symptoms. Let us explore typical symptoms of gluten intolerance.

Understanding gluten intolerance

Who doesn’t love bread, pasta, and tasty baked goods? But people with celiac disease or gluten intolerance must stay away from foods that contain gluten. 

Gluten intolerance is the body’s incompetence to break down or digest the gluten protein found in wheat, barley, and rye. It can range from mild gluten sensitivity to chronic digestive disorders like celiac disease. 

Earlier, gluten intolerance was only linked to celiac disease and wheat allergy. However, recent studies acknowledged that individuals could have gluten intolerance without celiac disease.

For instance, if you test negative for celiac disease but still feel sick after eating or drinking gluten-containing foods, you may have non-celiac gluten sensitivity (NCGS).

Gluten intolerance symptoms in adults

Gluten intolerance can cause various symptoms like skin issues, depression, joint pains and more. Here are the most common symptoms of gluten intolerance.

1. Depression And Anxiety

You might not directly attribute your mood swings and anxiety to gluten intolerance. However, as per the research, there is a significant connection between the two.

According to studies, people with digestive issues are prone to depression and anxiety. On the other hand, both anxiety and depression are common in people with celiac disease and non-celiac gluten sensitivity.

2. Limb Numbness

Numbness in your legs and arms is another common symptom. It happens because of the inflammation caused by gluten in your nervous system.

Studies [1]National Library of Medicine: Quality of Life in Patients with Gluten Neuropathy: A Case-Controlled Study have shown that gluten can cause neuropathy, characterized by tingling, burning, or numbness in the limbs. This is because gluten can damage the myelin sheath, the protective coating around your nerves.

3. Autoimmune Disorders

For people with gluten sensitivities, eating gluten can trigger an immune response in your body, leading to various autoimmune disorders.

An autoimmune disease is a health concern in which your immune system attacks healthy cells in your body by mistake. Some common autoimmune disorders linked to the undiagnosed celiac disease include psoriasis, rheumatoid arthritis, and autoimmune thyroid disease.

4. Brain Fog

Brain fog is a health concern characterized by confusion, forgetfulness, and difficulty concentrating. 

In individuals with gluten intolerance, eating gluten can cause inflammation in the brain, leading to brain fog and other cognitive disorders. This is because of the body’s reaction to antibodies in gluten. However, the exact reason is unknown. 

5. Diarrhea, Constipation, And Smelly Feces

Other significant concerns include digestive issues like diarrhea, constipation, and smelly feces. This is because eating gluten can cause inflammation in the digestive tract, leading to various digestive symptoms.

Diarrhea and constipation are common concerns in celiac disease. However, they can also be observed in people with gluten intolerance. In some cases, diarrhea and constipation may alternate, causing abdominal pain. This is known as the “celiac crisis.”

Smelly feces is another common symptom of gluten intolerance. This is because gluten can cause malabsorption, a condition in which the body cannot absorb nutrients properly. This can lead to signs like smelly feces.

6. Bloating And Gas

Although occasional bloating and gas are common after eating a large meal, it is not the same for people with celiac disease and gluten intolerance.

Gluten can often cause inflammation in the digestive system, leading to severe symptoms like bloating and gas. Additionally, a study [2]PubMed: An Italian prospective multicenter survey on patients suspected of having non-celiac gluten sensitivity claims that 87% of people with gluten intolerance experienced bloating.

7. Fatigue

Almost all of us experience fatigue at some point in our lives. It is a feeling of tiredness or weakness that can be physical, mental, or sometimes both.

People with celiac disease and NCGS are more likely to experience fatigue than the general population. This is because gluten can cause inflammation in the body, resulting in fatigue.

8. Iron Deficiency Anemia

Gluten-intolerant individuals are prone to iron-deficiency anemia, which causes tiredness and lack of energy. If you are gluten intolerant, eating gluten can lead to limited nutrient absorption in the small intestine. This results in reduced absorption of iron from food. 

9. Skin Reactions

Specific skin reactions may occur immediately when people with gluten intolerance consume gluten. In general, wheat allergies may often cause hives and blisters.

Dermatitis herpetiformis is one of the most common skin reactions to gluten food allergy. They can range from mild rashes to severe eczema. However, these skin reactions slowly ease on their own over time.

10. Unexplained Weight Loss

If you experience sudden unexplained weight loss after eating gluten, you should consider it a symptom.

In some people, weight loss may be the only symptom of celiac disease. Also, a study [3]PubMed: Effect of a gluten-free diet on gastrointestinal symptoms in celiac disease shows that two-thirds of people lost weight six months before they were diagnosed with gluten intolerance. This is known as “silent celiac disease.”

11. Headaches And Migraines

It is common to experience headaches after a long day at work. But, if you experience a headache or migraine after consuming foods that contain gluten, you should consider it a symptom of gluten intolerance.

Studies discovered that gluten intolerant people are more prone to migraine attacks than others.

12. Joint And Muscle Pain

Joint pain and muscle pain are common complaints in people with celiac disease. Gluten Intolerance may lead to aches and discomfort in the body’s joints.

In one study [4]National Library of Medicine: Remarkable prevalence of coeliac disease in patients with irritable bowel syndrome plus fibromyalgia in comparison with those with isolated irritable bowel syndrome: a … Continue reading, nearly 80% of people with fibromyalgia also had celiac disease. People with celiac disease have an over-sensitive nervous system. Thus, they may have a lower threshold to activate sensory neurons that cause pain in muscles and joints.

13. Stomach Pain

Studies claim that around 83% of people with gluten intolerance experience abdominal pain after eating foods that contain gluten. This is likely because of the inflammation caused by gluten.

Gluten intolerance symptoms in children

It’s difficult to identify gluten intolerance in children with wheat allergy, celiac disease, or non-celiac gluten sensitivity. However, when it comes to our children’s health, there is no way to ignore any minute discomfort. So here are some symptoms you need to keep an eye on to pin down gluten intolerance.

Neurological Symptoms

Although research is ongoing, experts link neurological disorders in children with gluten intolerance. According to reports, a gluten-free diet helped with neurological symptoms in children. These symptoms include:

  • Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
  • Learning disabilities
  • Headaches
  • Irritability
  • Seizures
  • Lack of muscle coordination

Deficiencies-related Issues

Nutrient deficiencies in children are surprisingly common. However, children with gluten intolerance are more prone to such deficiencies. If you notice the following deficiencies in your children, then it could be a symptom of celiac disease or gluten intolerance.

  • Anemia
  • Damaged tooth enamel
  • Short stature/slow growth
  • Delayed puberty

Digestive Disorder-related Symptoms

As per the Celiac Disease Foundation, the below listed are the children’s digestive disorder symptoms that can be caused by celiac disease or gluten intolerance.

  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Chronic diarrhea
  • Constipation
  • Bloating
  • Pale and foul-smelling stools

Weight-related Issues

As parents, we often are anxious about our children’s weight. We tend to compare our child’s weight to other children of similar age. However, in some cases, weight issues could be directly related to celiac disease or gluten intolerance in children. Weight-related symptoms in children with celiac disease or NCGS may include

  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Poor weight gain
  • Failure to thrive in infants

Causes Of Gluten Intolerance

Despite many studies, the exact causes of gluten sensitivity aren’t well understood. However, research suggests that wheat may alter some people’s lining of the digestive tract.

Generally, this lining prevents bacteria from leaking out of the intestines. But, in individuals with celiac disease or gluten intolerance, this lining might not function properly, allowing germs into their blood or liver and causing inflammation. Here are  some common causes of gluten intolerance or wheat allergy

  • Genes
  • Harsh Medications
  • Emotional Trauma
  • Pregnancy

Diagnosis Of non-celiac gluten sensitivity

There is no definitive test for diagnosing NCGS. However, a combination of symptoms, a detailed medical history, and blood tests can help doctors rule out other conditions and make a diagnosis.

If you think you are sensitive to gluten, talk to your doctor about the symptoms you’re experiencing. They can help you determine whether or not you need to be tested for celiac disease, wheat allergy, or NCGS. 

Managing gluten intolerance

It may feel disappointing, but a strict gluten-free diet is the only treatment for people with celiac disease, wheat allergy, and gluten intolerance. Even a tiny amount of gluten will cause an immune system reaction that can harm your small intestine. Check out the foods to eat and avoid on a gluten-free diet.

Foods To Eat

  • Fruits and vegetables
  • Nuts and seeds
  • Eggs and meat
  • Almond milk, fresh juices, and wine
  • Gluten-free grains like rice, quinoa, and millets
  • Dairy products like milk, butter, and plain yogurt

Foods To Avoid

  • Wheat, Barley, Rye Malt
  • Baked goods
  • Processed foods
  • Pasta, Bread, Cereals, Cheese

Tips to live a healthy life if you have gluten intolerance

Starting a gluten-free diet can be intimidating, especially if you doing it for health concerns such as celiac disease or gluten food allergy.

If you’re feeling lost and confused after learning you have to eat gluten-free, don’t worry! You are not alone. Here are some tips you can follow to make your life easier during the gluten-free transition.

1. Look For Naturally Gluten-Free Foods

The best way to start a gluten-free diet is by avoiding processed foods and sticking to natural, whole foods. This means eating lots of fruits, vegetables, meat, fish, nuts, and seeds. Luckily, these are all gluten-free foods.

 2. Read Labels Carefully

If you’re buying packaged foods, read the labels carefully. Reading labels can be quite confusing and frustrating. But, get used to reading and knowing your ingredients before you get them home.

3. Be Patient With Yourself

The transition to a gluten-free diet can be difficult, and it’s normal to make mistakes or slip up occasionally. Be patient with yourself and try your best and keep going.

4. Bake Your Own Baked Goods

Baked goods are one of the things you miss the most when they go gluten-free. However, you can still enjoy your favorite desserts by baking them yourself using gluten-free ingredients. However, we understand baking may not be for everyone, but it is one of the safest ways to eat baked goods while on this diet.

5. Consult A Dietician

If you’re struggling to stick to a gluten-free diet, consult a dietician. They can help you figure out meal plans, find new recipes, and answer any questions you may have.

Conclusion

There are several symptoms of gluten intolerance. If you are often experiencing adverse reactions to gluten foods without apparent reason, it could be Celiac disease or Gluten intolerance.

There is no cure for these conditions, and the only treatment is to follow a gluten-free diet. This can be difficult, but with the help of a dietician and by being patient with yourself, you can make the transition to a gluten-free lifestyle.

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