Understanding Celiac Disease and Gluten Intolerance

Understanding Celiac Disease and Gluten Intolerance

Celiac disease and gluten intolerance are two terms often used interchangeably, but they represent distinct conditions with varying degrees of severity. Both conditions involve a sensitivity to gluten, a protein found in wheat, barley, and rye. In this blog, we will delve into what celiac disease is, its causes, symptom, and available treatments to provide a clear understanding of these conditions.

What is Celiac Disease?

Celiac disease is an autoimmune disorder triggered by the ingestion of gluten. When someone with celiac disease consumes gluten-containing foods, their immune system reacts by damaging the lining of the small intestine. This damage impairs the body’s ability to absorb essential nutrients, leading to a range of health problems.

Causes of Celiac Disease

The exact cause of celiac disease is not fully understood but is believed to be a combination of genetic and environmental factors. People with specific genetic markers such as HLA-DQ2 or HLA-DQ8, are more susceptible to developing celiac disease. Gluten exposure is necessary for the condition to manifest, which means that genetics alone do not cause celiac disease.

Symptoms of Celiac Disease

Celiac Disease can manifest with a wide range of symptoms, making diagnosis challenging. Some common symptoms include:

  • Digestive Issues: Abdominal pain, bloating, diarrhea, and constipation.
  • Fatigue: Due to malabsorption of nutrients.
  • Skin Problems: Rashes like dermatitis herpetiformis can occur.
  • Weight Loss: Unintended weight loss despite normal food intake.
  • Anemia: A lack of iron and other nutrients can lead to anemia.
  • Joint Pain: Inflammation and joint pain are possible symptoms.
  • Mood Disorders: Anxiety and depression can be linked to celiac disease.
  • Neurological Symptoms: Headaches, balance problems, and cognitive difficulties.


Diagnosing celiac disease typically involves a combination of blood tests, such as the serology test for specific antibodies, and a biopsy of the small intestine to confirm damage. It is important to continue consuming gluten-containing foods before testing, as a gluten-free diet can lead to false-negative results.


Once diagnosed with celiac disease, the primary treatment is a strict gluten-free diet. This means avoiding all foods and products that contain wheat, barley, and rye. Here are some key aspects of treatment:

  • Dietary Changes: Eliminate gluten-containing foods and carefully read labels to avoid hidden sources of gluten. Gluten-free alternatives are widely available.
  • Nutritional Supplements: Depending on the extent of nutrient deficiencies, supplements may be prescribed to correct deficiencies, such as iron, calcium, and vitamin D.
  • Consult a Dietitian: Working with a registered dietitian experienced in celiac disease helps ensure a balanced, gluten-free diet.
  • Regular Follow-Up: Ongoing monitoring is crucial to assess symptom improvement and nutritional status.
  • Support Groups: Joining a celiac support group can provide emotional support and practical advice.

Gluten Intolerance vs. Celiac Disease

It’s important to differentiate between gluten intolerance and celiac disease. Gluten intolerance, often referred to as non-celiac gluten sensitivity (NCGS), is characterized by gastrointestinal symptoms, similar to those of celiac disease, without the autoimmune response and intestinal damage seen in celiac patients. Diagnosis is typically exclusionary, and the primary treatment is also a gluten-free diet.


Celiac disease is a serious autoimmune condition triggered by the consumption of gluten, leading to damage to the small intestine and a range of symptoms. Understanding the causes, symptoms, and treatment options for celiac disease is crucial for those affected by this condition. While gluten intolerance shares some similarities with celiac disease, it is distinct and lacks the autoimmune component. If you suspect you have celiac disease or gluten intolerance contact a healthcare professional for proper diagnosis and guidance on managing your condition through dietary changes.

American Online Benefits Group offers health plans that give access to healthcare professionals that can assist those suffering from celiac disease. Contact our Member Services Team today at 214-389-9072 for more information.