Gluten intolerance, or celiac disease, causes inflammation and damage in the small bowel, leading to poor nutrient absorption and symptoms of malnutrition. A gluten intolerance in children can be difficult to diagnose because symptoms can mimic a variety of health issues, and some children don't experience obvious symptoms at all.
Gluten is a protein found in grains such as wheat, barley, rye and oats. When children with gluten intolerance consume foods that contain these grains, the protein will inflame and damage the villi that line the small bowel and absorb nutrients, according to Kids Health. This inflammation and these changes to the bowel lining can result in a variety of physical symptoms and associated health issues.
The gluten intolerance symptoms in children can vary depending on the individual. Some children experience stomach pain, diarrhea, vomiting and constipation. Weight loss, irritability and mood changes, vitamin and mineral deficiencies and associated health complications such as osteoporosis and anemia may also occur, states the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Symptoms are harder to track or assess in younger children, as they can have more difficulty identifying specific physical pains. Sporadic gastrointestinal issues may also mimic the flu or food poisoning, and mood changes may be attributed to factors such as fatigue or social development.
As with all food sensitivities and allergies parents must monitor their children's diet closely to determine if they experience sensitivities or intolerance to foods containing gluten. If your child begins to exhibit an ongoing pattern of gastrointestinal distress associated with gluten consumption you may wish to rule out a possible gluten intolerance through a medical exam. Observe if the symptoms disappear by avoiding gluten in your child's diet. A combination of blood tests and biopsies of the small bowel are, however, the only definitive way to make an accurate diagnosis of gluten intolerance, according to HealthyChildren.org.
A gluten-free diet is the only way to control gluten intolerance symptoms in children, according to Kids Health. Plan meals without bread, pasta, cereals and most baked goods. Items or recipes containing flour, oats, barley or rye should be avoided. Some supermarkets and health food stores also offer gluten-free products such as gluten-free breads or pastas. Children should be carefully instructed regarding their gluten-free diet guidelines so they don't consume gluten-containing foods when they are at school or with friends. Parents will have to specify gluten-free guidelines to school staff or childcare providers of very young children who are not old enough to learn the diet guidelines.