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An Overview of Gluten Intolerance

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Gluten intolerance is essentially a disorder arising out of an immune reaction or sensitivity to gluten. This condition is more commonly known as celiac disease. In it, the inner lining of an individual’s small intestine is inflamed and destroyed owing to an allergic effect to gluten present in the diet. This recurring digestive problem results in the malabsorption of nutrients and minerals.

Causes of Gluten Intolerance

The actual cause of gluten intolerance or celiac disease is not known. There is something in gluten that disturbs the normal functioning of the immune system of the body for those who are intolerant to it.

The small intestine has linings of villi which is nothing but minute hairlike projections. The villi are responsible for the absorption of minerals, nutrients and vitamins from the food eaten by you. Gluten intolerance affects the villi significantly so that the body does not absorb enough nutrients essential for good health and development. Rather, all important nutrients like fat, vitamins, minerals and protein are removed with the stool passed by you.

According to doctors and researchers, gluten intolerance can be said to be hereditary. Therefore, if your parents or anyone else in the family has a history of the disease, there is a high possibility of you developing it.

Symptoms of Gluten Intolerance

The symptoms of gluten intolerance can be quite varied. They can also be mild or serious depending upon the severity of the problem. People having a mild intolerance suffer from only anemia, fatigue and abdominal uneasiness such as excess gas, bloating and abdominal distension.

Some of the common symptoms of Gluten intolerance are:

  • Abdominal gas, bloating, cramps, constipation and other gastrointestinal issues
  • Diarrhea
  • Depression
  • Joint and bone pain
  • Easy bruising
  • Weight gain or weight loss
  • Deficiency in nutrition because of malabsorption  
  • Headaches
  • Eczema
  • Aching joints
  • Fatigue, exhaustion and overall weakness
  • Gastritis
  • Foul-smelling bowels or stools
  • Increased fat amount in stools
  • Flatulence
  • Infertility and irregularity in menstrual cycle
  • Retention of fluid in the body
  • Osteoporosis
  • Obesity
  • Nose bleeding
  • Red urine
  • Skin rashes
  • Cramps, numbness and tingling

How to Detect/Diagnose Gluten Intolerance

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Because of the wide variety of symptoms and its similarity to that of other diseases, it is a bit difficult to detect gluten intolerance. However, doctors have found out several effective ways of diagnosing celiac disease. They are:

Blood Tests: The human body contains certain auto antibodies which are concerned with reacting against the tissues or cells of the body. In gluten-intolerant people, the level of auto antibodies is higher than normal. It can be detected by several blood tests that include antigliadin antibodies, anti-tissue transglutaminase antibodies and anti-endomysium antibodies. It is important to eat food items that have a liberal dose of gluten before the test so that it can be detected properly whether you are intolerant to it.

Small Intestinal Biopsy: This is done through the process of EGD or esophagogastroduodenoscopy. In it, a long endoscope is inserted into the duodenum through your mouth. Then, the doctor passes a flexible and long biopsy instrument through a small opening in the endoscope. This is done for the purpose of obtaining intestinal lining samples of the duodenum. The doctor might obtain multiple samples in order to ensure accuracy. This process is considered to be the most flawless method of determining gluten intolerance.

Screening: This is especially meant for people who have a family history of gluten intolerance, but do not experience any of its symptoms. In this process, a blood test is conducted in order to determine the presence of auto antibodies in the body along with its level.  

Dermatitis Herpetiformis: It primarily refers to a skin rash that is intensely itchy and occurs in the knees, buttocks and elbows. If you have Dermatitis Herpetiformis, you won’t have any of the digestive symptoms usually associated with celiac disease or gluten intolerance. A skin biopsy or blood test can detect DH. If it is found out in the skin biopsy that you indeed have DH, it obviously points towards gluten intolerance.

Treatment of Gluten Intolerance

The first step towards treating gluten intolerance is removing all products containing gluten from your diet. This is the most practical and the only way through which you can facilitate healing of the intestines and the gradual elimination of all the symptoms.

Since it can be difficult to identify entirely gluten-free products, it is always advisable to consult a dietician for the purpose. This is important because many food items have gluten hidden in them.  

What Happens If you Leave Gluten Intolerance Untreated?

If, gluten intolerance is left untreated, it can gradually lead to gastrointestinal cancer. Avoiding treatment for celiac disease can also result in small bowel ulcers. For this reason, you should take prompt action, if any of the above mentioned symptoms start plaguing you.

Written by: Saptakee sengupta
Date last updated: April 28, 2015