When Should You Suspect Gluten Intolerance: Common Indications of Gluten Intolerance

One of the common problems faced by today’s population is Gluten intolerance. This condition is characterized by unfavorable reactions to gluten, which is a protein found in rye, barley and wheat.

The Connection between Gluten Intolerance and Celiac Disease

The most severe type of gluten intolerance is Celiac Disease. Celiac disease is an autoimmune disease affecting around 1% of population and can cause damage to the digestive tract (1, 2). However, about 1 to 12% of individuals can also suffer from gluten sensitivity that is non-celiac, which is a milder type of gluten intolerance that nonetheless causes problems.(3,4)

Widespread symptoms can be experienced from both the types of gluten intolerance; many of which are unrelated to digestion.

When Should You Suspect Gluten Intolerance: Common Indications of Gluten Intolerance

Given Below Are 14 Common Signs and Symptoms of Gluten Intolerance:

Pain in the Abdomen

Pain in the abdomen is quite common and has various causes. Pain in the abdomen also happens to be a primary and a common symptom of gluten intolerance(5, 6, 7)

Almost 80% patients suffering from gluten intolerance experience discomfort and pain in the abdomen after gluten consumption.(8, 9)

In a Nutshell: Pain in the abdomen is one of the most common symptoms experienced by the majority of the patients suffering from gluten intolerance.

Constipation, Diarrhea and Foul Feces

Having constipation and diarrhea now and then is normal; however, if it occurs regularly, then it is a cause for concern. Constipation and diarrhea are also common symptoms of gluten intolerance. Patients suffering from celiac disease also experience small intestine inflammation after consuming gluten. This leads to damage of the gut lining and causes poor absorption of nutrients, resulting in frequent diarrhea/constipation and major digestive discomfort.(10)

However, there are some people who don’t have celiac disease and yet experience digestive symptoms from eating gluten.(11, 12, 13, 14) About 25% gluten-sensitive patients experience constipation and more than 50% experience diarrhea on a regular basis (15).

Other than this, patients suffering from celiac disease can also experience foul-smelling and pale feces as a result of poor nutrient absorption. Frequent diarrhea is a big health concern, because it causes dehydration, loss of electrolytes and fatigue.(16)

In a Nutshell: Diarrhea or constipation along with pale and bad-smelling stools is a common sign or symptom of gluten intolerance.

Bloating

Bloating is a condition where you feel as if your stomach is full of gas or swollen after eating; and this is not a good feeling at all.(17) Bloating is quite common and has many causes, one of which can be an indication of gluten intolerance. In fact, people who are intolerant or sensitive to gluten complain most of feeling bloated.(18, 19)

According to a study, about 80% of people suffering from suspected non-celiac gluten sensitivity have complained of bloating.

In a Nutshell: bloating is one of the common sign or symptom of gluten intolerance.

Headaches

Migraines or headaches can also be a sign of gluten intolerance experienced by many patients. According to studies, gluten-intolerant patients can be more susceptible to migraines.(20, 21) Individuals who are sensitive to gluten can suffer from regular migraines or headaches without any known apparent cause.

In a Nutshell: Patients who suffer from gluten-intolerance are more prone to headaches and migraines than healthy people.

Tiredness, Fatigue

It is normal to feel tired, but feeling tired all the time can be a sign of some underlying illness, including Gluten-intolerance. Gluten-intolerant individuals are very prone to tiredness and fatigue, especially after they eat gluten foods.(22, 23)Studies also have revealed that more than half of the gluten-intolerant patient can commonly suffer from tiredness and fatigue.(22)

Other than this, gluten intolerance can also lead to iron-deficiency anemia that in turn will lead to more tiredness and lethargy.(24) So, we can safely say that tiredness is an important symptom of gluten intolerance.

In a Nutshell: Tiredness is easily an important indication of suffering from gluten intolerance.

Depression and Anxiety

Depression is a condition where the patient has feelings of sadness and hopelessness and about 6% of adults are affected with depression each year.(25)

People suffering from digestive problems can be more susceptible to depression as well as anxiety when compared to healthy people.(26) This is especially true for patients suffering from celiac disease.(27, 28)

There are many studies that have shown individuals suffering from depression and anxiety feel better when they are on a gluten-free diet, even if the digestive symptoms persist.(29, 30) This means that gluten consumption on its own can cause feelings of depression, digestive symptoms notwithstanding. So, depression can be more commonly seen in patients suffering from gluten intolerance.

Anxiety is another common ailment affecting lot of people all over the world. A person who is suffering from anxiety experiences nervousness, worrisome thoughts, agitation and unease all the time. Other than this anxiety commonly goes hand-in-hand with depression.(31)

Patients suffering from gluten intolerance are more susceptible to panic disorders and anxiety (32 33, 34).A research has also shown that around 40% of patients with gluten sensitivity experience anxiety on a regular basis.(35)

In a Nutshell: Anxiety and depression are more commonly seen in people who have gluten intolerance. Individuals who are gluten-intolerant seem to be at higher risk for anxiety and panic attacks than healthy people.

Skin Issues

Skin can also get affected in patients suffering from Gluten Intolerance. Dermatitis herpetiformis is a blistering skin condition associated with celiac disease.(36) Patients suffering from various skin ailments have noticed improvement when they are following a gluten-free diet.

In a Nutshell: Dermatitis herpetiformis is caused by celiac disease. There are many skin conditions, which have show improvement by following a gluten-free diet.

Iron-Deficiency Anemia

The most common nutrient deficiency worldwide is iron-deficiency anemia and it causes symptoms like fatigue, low blood volume, breathlessness, headaches, dizziness, weakness and pallor.(37) There is impairment of nutrient absorption in the small intestine in patients suffering from celiac disease.(38) This results in decreased iron absorption from food.(38) Iron deficiency anemia can be one of the initial symptoms of celiac disease.(39)

In a Nutshell: Celiac disease causes decreased iron absorption from diet resulting in iron-deficiency anemia.

Unintentional Weight Loss

Any change in weight without any reason is a cause for concern. Unexplained weight loss can have various causes, one of the common causes being that it is a side effect of celiac disease that has been undiagnosed.(40)The weight loss is due to poor nutrient absorption and also because of various digestive issues. Unexpected weight loss can be an important sign of celiac disease; especially if other digestive symptoms are accompanying it.

In a Nutshell: Don’t ignore unexplained weight loss, as it can be a symptom of gluten intolerance.

Autoimmune Diseases

Celiac disease is an autoimmune condition where your immune system starts to attack your digestive tract after gluten consumption.(41) Interestingly, a person suffering from autoimmune condition is more likely to suffer from other autoimmune disorders like autoimmune thyroid disease, which again becomes a risk factor for depression and other emotional issues.(42, 43, 44, 45, 46)

So, patients suffering from autoimmune diseases like inflammatory bowel disease or type-1 diabetes more commonly suffer from celiac disease.(47)However, patients suffering from non-celiac gluten sensitivity have not been seen prone to the risk of autoimmune disorders, nutritional deficiencies or malabsorption.(48, 49)

In a Nutshell: Patients suffering from celiac disease, which is an autoimmune disease, are more prone to suffer from other autoimmune diseases.

Pain in the Joints and Muscles

Joint and muscle pain has different causes. According to a theory, patients suffering from celiac disease have a genetically designed over-excitable or over-sensitive nervous system. This means that such patients have a reduced threshold to trigger sensory neurons, which causes pain in the joints and muscles.(50, 51)

Other than this, gluten can also cause inflammation in individuals who are sensitive to gluten. This inflammation causes pain all over the body including muscles and joints.

In a Nutshell: Joint and muscle pain is a sign and symptom of gluten intolerance and the cause of which can be attributed to over-sensitive nervous system.

Brain Fog

Foggy Brain or Brain Fog is a condition, where a person is not able to think clearly or with clarity. Brain fog is characterized by forgetfulness, feeling cloudy, difficulty in thinking and experiencing mental fatigue.(52) A foggy mind is a common sign of gluten intolerance where it affects about 40% of gluten-intolerant patients.(53, 54) Brain fog can also occur as a reaction to some antibodies present in the gluten; however, the exact cause is not clear.(55, 56)

In a Nutshell: Brain fog is an important symptom of Gluten-Intolerance where the patient has forgetfulness and difficulty in thinking and recollecting.

Numbness in Arms or Legs

Neuropathy is another symptom of gluten intolerance where the patient suffers from numbness or tingling in the arms and legs. Neuropathy is a condition commonly seen in patients suffering from vitamin B12 deficiency and diabetes. Neuropathy can also develop due to excessive alcohol consumption and toxicity.(57) However, patients suffering from gluten sensitivity and celiac disease are at increased risk for suffering from numbness in the arms and legs than healthy people.(58, 59, 60)

In a Nutshell: Tingling or numbness in the arms and legs can be an indication of gluten intolerance.

Conclusion

There can be various signs and symptoms of gluten intolerance other than the ones listed above. The important thing to bear in mind is many of the symptoms listed above can have other causes as well. However, if you are experiencing the abovementioned symptoms on a regular basis without a known cause, then it could be an indication that you are sensitive to gluten and you are reacting negatively to the gluten in your food. You can temporarily eliminate gluten from your diet and see if there is any improvement in your symptoms to be sure or consult a doctor for further tests, diagnosis and treatment.

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