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Celiac Disease vs. Non-Celiac Gluten Sensitivity vs. Food Allergy

0 2 years ago

If you feel unwell (or horrible) after eating wheat or gluten, you’re not alone. Three different conditions — celiac disease, non-celiac gluten sensitivity (NCGS) and wheat allergy — can cause problems when you eat these foods. And together, these three conditions affect millions of people in the U.S and around the world.

So, what’s the difference between celiac disease, NCGS and wheat allergy — and what should you do if you think you have one of these conditions? Gastroenterologist Alberto Rubio Tapia, MD, clears up the confusion.

The quick definitions:

  • Celiac disease: It’s an autoimmune disease. Eating gluten damages your small intestine.
  • Wheat allergy: Your immune system overreacts to wheat. It can be life-threatening.
  • Non-celiac gluten sensitivity (NCGS)/gluten intolerance/gluten sensitivity: You test negative for celiac but react badly to gluten.

Celiac disease vs. NCGS (gluten intolerance)

Celiac disease and NCGS, also called gluten intolerance or gluten sensitivity, seem similar on the surface. Both conditions can cause uncomfortable symptoms after you eat gluten. But that’s where the similarities end, says Dr. Rubio Tapia.

Celiac disease is an immune system disorder that damages your small intestine when you eat even a tiny amount of gluten. Celiac also runs in families,” explains Dr. Rubio Tapia. “NCGS is a digestive disorder, not an immune system problem. NCGS doesn’t damage your intestine, and it doesn’t run in families.”

NCGS (gluten intolerance) symptoms and celiac disease: Seemingly the same

If they’re so different, why do people confuse celiac disease and NCGS (gluten intolerance)? Because they have two things in common:

  1. NCGS and celiac disease have nearly identical symptoms.
  2. Your symptoms get better when you cut gluten from your diet.

So, if you have celiac or NCGS, you might notice that eating gluten causes:

  • Bloating, gas and constipation.
  • Brain fog, fatigue and headaches.
  • Depression.
  • Diarrhea and nausea.
  • Joint pain.

Despite their overlap in symptoms, how bad you feel isn’t an indicator of what’s ailing you. “Some people with celiac have no symptoms at all,” notes Dr. Rubio Tapia. “And a person with NCGS could have very severe symptoms after eating gluten. We have to do tests to find out what’s going on.”

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