Gluten-Free Q & A: What’s The Difference Between Celiac Disease, Gluten Sensitivity, and Wheat Allergy?

I have gluten sensitivity. I haven’t eaten gluten since approximately 2010. I’ve never been tested for Celiac disease, and I do not have a wheat allergy.

Even with all that I do, read, and know about gluten-free foods, I still find the outline below helpful. The three conditions are not the same. It’s good to be aware of the basic differences.

Celiac Disease

An auto-immune disorder affecting about 1% of the population in which even the smallest amounts of gluten (found in barley, wheat, and rye) cause a wide range of symptoms by damaging the villi in the small intestine.

Celiac disease can be diagnosed by biopsy or endoscopy. Symptoms (anemia, bone disorders, mouth sores, skin rash, gastrointestinal problems, and more) are sometimes confused with IBS. Celiac disease is not IBS.

Gluten Sensitivity

Affects about 6% (and possibly on the rise) of the population. People with gluten sensitivity experience symptoms (abdominal pain, anemia, depression, diarrhea, fatigue, headache, joint pain) but do not develop the antibodies associated with Celiac disease, or, see the same damage the villi.

This is usually diagnosed by exclusion; by ruling out other conditions with similar symptoms.

Wheat Allergy

This is an allergic reaction to wheat, which occurs immediately (within 2 hours or less), and can be severe or even fatal. People with wheat allergies may be able to eat barley or rye. Some children outgrow wheat allergies.

Symptoms include: diarrhea, hives, nausea, vomiting, rashes, sneezing, swelling of the throat, and possibly anaphylaxis. This is usually diagnosed by a skin prick test.

For reference & additional reading:

Mayo Clinic Staff. (2016). Celiac disease. Mayo Clinic.

National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases.

Czaja-Bulsa, G. (2015). Non celiac gluten sensitivity – A new disease with gluten intolerance. Clin Nutr 34(2), 189–194.

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