Signs & Symptoms of Gluten Intolerance

Mix of bread
Wheat bread contains gluten. (Image: grafvision/iStock/Getty Images)

Gluten intolerance, also known as celiac disease, sprue or gluten-sensitive enteropathy, occurs when your body cannot tolerate the gluten found in wheat, barley or rye. Gluten causes an autoimmune response in the body which damages the lining of the small intestine. The only cure for gluten intolerance is to follow a gluten-free diet. Symptoms of gluten intolerance are similar to other medical conditions; see your physician for diagnosis if you think you may have this condition.

Gastrointestinal Symptoms

abdominal pain
Symptoms of gluten intolerance may occur in the digestive track. (Image: Heiko119/iStock/Getty Images)

Symptoms of gluten intolerance may occur in the digestive tract. Children may experience gastrointestinal symptoms more than adults. Symptoms include abdominal cramping, bloating, intestinal gas and changes in bowel patterns. Diarrhea or constipation may occur with pale, foul-smelling and fatty stools. Digestive symptoms of gluten intolerance may mimic symptoms of other diseases, like irritable bowel syndrome or Crohn’s disease.

Rash

eczema closeup
Skin symptoms may occur with gluten intolerance. (Image: Smithore/iStock/Getty Images)

Dermatitis herpetiformis may occur if you have gluten intolerance. Antibodies released from gluten ingestion deposit under the first layer of skin, causing groups of watery, itching blisters. This condition may be the only sign of gluten intolerance in some people. Symptoms include patches of itchy skin that are often painful to the touch. The rash may develop into raised areas of skin that turn into small, watery blisters that are intensely itchy. Skin problems commonly develop on the elbows, knees, buttocks, face, scalp and shoulders. If you experience symptoms of dermatitis herpetiformis, following a gluten-free diet is a must to prevent intestinal damage from occurring.

Fatigue

Herbed Chicken Breast with Wild Rice
A gluten free diet can include rice instead of bread. (Image: Lauri Patterson/iStock/Getty Images)

Gluten causes the destruction of tiny fingerlike projections inside the small intestine, villi, in people with celiac disease. Villi are essential for nutrient absorption. When too many villi are damaged, malnourishment and lack of energy may occur. You may experience bouts of fatigue or suffer from long-term, chronic fatigue with gluten intolerance. Once a gluten-free diet is established, villi are often able to heal and nutrient absorption increases which may help relieve fatigue over time.

Musculoskeletal Problems

Running injury, knee pain
Joint pain and arthritis may be symptoms of celiac disease. (Image: blyjak/iStock/Getty Images)

Thinning bones and osteoporosis may occur in people with a long-standing history of being undiagnosed with celiac disease, due to a lack of calcium absorption. You may experience other joint problems, including joint pain and arthritis. Children with undiagnosed celiac disease may suffer from stunted growth. Muscles and nerves may also be affected, causing generalized muscle pain and tingling and numbness of the hands or feet.

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