Can Gluten Cause Bleeding in the Intestines?

Some people are unable to eat gluten, a protein found in barley, rye and wheat, without becoming sick. Gluten intolerance, known as celiac disease, is an autoimmune disorder that damages the digestive system. Intestinal bleeding has many causes and can be difficult to diagnose. The evidence supporting a link between celiac disease and intestinal bleeding is controversial.

Many kinds of food contain gluten. (Image: Andrei Kiselev/Hemera/Getty Images)

Gluten Intolerance

When you have celiac disease and eat foods containing gluten, your immune system attacks your small intestine and damages its lining. This prevents your body from absorbing the nutrients you need for good health. Over time, you can become malnourished and develop serious problems, such as anemia, brittle bones and nerve damage. Both children and adults can have celiac disease. People may live with the disease for years before they are correctly diagnosed.

Diagnosis and Treatment of Celiac Disease

Symptoms of celiac disease include gas, bloating, abdominal pain, diarrhea and fatigue. A blood test is the first step in confirming a diagnosis. This may be followed by a biopsy of the lower intestines to examine for tissue damage. The only treatment for celiac disease is complete elimination of all gluten products. Most people feel better within a few days. Consult with your doctor to develop the best diet program for your condition.

Intestinal Bleeding

Many conditions and diseases cause intestinal bleeding. Signs of bleeding from the lower digestive tract include bright red blood in the stools and stools that are dark and tarry. Hemorrhoids and anal fissures can cause bleeding during a bowel movement. Small amounts of intestinal bleeding, known as occult bleeding, may be invisible. A laboratory test can detect occult blood in a stool sample.

Relationship Between Bleeding and Celiac Disease

In a study published in the May 2, 1996, issue of "New England of Journal of Medicine," researchers from Baylor University Medical Center found occult bleeding in more than half of the subjects with celiac disease. In a more recent study published in the April 2006 issue of "Clinical Gastroenterology and Hepatology," researchers from the University of Alberta used a different method to detect occult blood. They concluded that bleeding is uncommon in celiac disease. The American Society of Gastroenterology does not list bleeding as a common symptom. In rare cases, patients with severe forms of the disease develop complications that cause intestinal bleeding.

Other Causes of Bleeding

Celiac disease is sometimes mistaken for other diseases with similar symptoms. Digestive tract conditions that cause abdominal discomfort, such as diverticulitis and irritable bowel syndrome, can cause blood to appear in your stools. People with celiac disease also have an increased risk of developing inflammatory bowel disease, a group of disorders that cause rectal bleeding. Notify your doctor if you notice blood after a bowel movement or if your stools look black and tarry.

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