Like HowStuffWorks on Facebook!

What's the difference between celiac disease and a gluten allergy?


Celiac disease and gluten intolerance are both conditions that cause people to become sensitive to gluten, a protein found in wheat, rye and barley. Gluten intolerance is a broad term that describes a range of sensitivities to gluten. So, while a large proportion of the population does suffer from one type of gluten intolerance or another, only a small percentage of these actually test positive for celiac disease.

Many people are unaware of the intrinsic differences between celiac disease and gluten allergies. While these two conditions do overlap, significant differences between them remain. Celiac disease is a hereditary condition. People with celiac disease suffer from damage to their small intestines as a result of gluten consumption. The symptoms and the severity for celiac disease can range widely, and may include diarrhea or constipation, fatigue, weight loss or weight gain, general poor health, and Dermatitis Herpetiformis. A diagnosis of celiac disease is made by measuring the damage to the small intestines through two blood tests, which include testing for anti-endomysial antibodies and for tissue transglutaminase.

People with celiac disease are at higher risk of a range of additional autoimmune diseases due to a condition known as leaky gut syndrome. The damage caused to the intestines of a celiac sufferer allows undigested and partly digested proteins to leak into the blood stream. As a result, the body produces antibodies to attack these foreign proteins. However, these antibodies also attack the person's own tissues, causing in autoimmune disease.

Celiac disease is just one type of gluten allergy. Many people suffer from gluten allergies; however, because these don't cause any damage to their small intestines, it is not considered celiac disease. A negative biopsy of the small intestine, in addition to negative results from anti-endomysial antibody and tissue transglutaminase blood tests are used to define these types of gluten-sensitive people as Non-Celiac Gluten Sensitive (NCGS). Gluten intolerance and other types of allergies to gluten can cause a range of symptoms, whose extent and severity can differ dramatically. Symptoms can include abdominal paid, ADHD, infertility, anemia, and joint pain.