What Is The Difference Between Gluten Intolerance And Celiac Disease?

The gluten-free diet is becoming increasingly popular as people worldwide become aware of its potential benefits. Gluten is believed by many to contribute to gut disorders, and as such gluten-free products can easily be found all most anywhere nowadays. The gluten-free food industry brought in a whopping 2.9 billion profit in 2019 and is expected to grow to 7.5 USD billion by 2027.

  What is gluten?  

Gluten is a protein in many grains like wheat, rye, barley, etc. Gluten is the glue in the flour that binds it together to make dough for making bread, pizza, and pastries.  Many people have issues with their bodies processing gluten; Let’s explore the difference between gluten intolerance and celiac disease.  

Gluten intolerance

People with a Gluten intolerance don’t have full-blown celiac disease, but just a sensitivity or intolerance. This is sometimes known as non-celiac gluten sensitivity (NCGS) to gluten. It is a good idea to keep a journal in order to keep track of what you eat to find out what food you consumed since gluten can be found in foods you’ll never expect to find it in.

What are the first signs of gluten intolerance?

Many people mistake gluten intolerance for celiac disease and sometimes even wheat allergies. Celiac disease destroys the gut lining, and, as a result, causes a full-blown autoimmune disease. On the other hand, there is no clear-cut reason as to why gluten intolerance occurs since no damage occurs to the digestive system like in celiac.

Wheat allergies are often mixed up with gluten intolerances. The key difference is that a wheat allergy can cause life-or-death situations where someone can stop breathing. Gluten intolerances are much less severe than wheat allergies or celiac disease.

How do I know if I’m gluten intolerant?

It starts with seeing a healthcare provider as there is no exact test for gluten intolerance. It is crucial to give a thorough history of any medical condition as well as any family history of issues with digestive disorders. Some digestive problems have similar symptoms as gluten sensitivity, like lactose intolerance.

Journaling what you eat can help in determining what foods are causing your signs and symptoms. 

As there is no specific test for gluten intolerance, the best way to tell you have gluten sensitivity is to stop consuming gluten-containing foods. If symptoms subside then you might have a gluten intolerance.

Seven symptoms of gluten intolerance

  1. Diarrhea and Constipation,  
  2. Bloating, 
  3. Abdominal pain, 
  4. Fatigue,                           
  5. Nausea,
  6. Headaches,
  7. Other things like joint pain, confusion, anemia, depression, or anxiety

What Is Celiac disease?

Celiac is disease that causes an autoimmune response, meaning the immune system attacks the body own itself.

The immune system mistakenly fights the small intestine lining, causing it to become inflamed. Some symptoms might be similar to gluten sensitivity but in the case of Celiac disease, it is severe and damages the intestine permanently.

Celiac disease can be mistaken as Irritable bowel syndrome because of their similar symptoms.

Celiac is a hereditary disorder, meaning it can be passed on to other family members.

 It is estimated about 1.8 million Americans and about 1 in 100 people worldwide are affected by this disease.

Not everyone presents symptoms of Celiac disease in the same way. There might be some similarities between children and adults. However, children often present more severe symptoms than adults do.

Symptoms for Children with Celiac disease 

  •  Vomiting, 
  • Constipation,
  • Diarrhea
  • Severe abdominal pain
  • Iron deficiency                     
  • weight loss
  • irritability and fatigue.  
  • delayed puberty,
  • Failure to thrive in infants
  • ADHD

Symptoms of adults with Celiac disease

  •  Fatigue
  • Stomach pain
  • Diarrhea
  • Foul smelling stools 
  • Migraines
  • Joint pain
  • Gas
  • Osteoporosis
  • Infertility

How Does Celiac Disease Damage the Digestive system?

 Gluten is a protein, and the digestion of proteins takes place in the small intestines. A person who has celiac disease might feel the effect right away because the gluten damages the intestine and irritation occurred which causes inflammation and pain.

Normally the small intestine has many small finger-like structures, that work to protect, help with digestion, and absorb nutrients that are damaged over time. When these little structures, known as villi, are destroyed they become flat resulting in nutrient deficiencies, less immunity to digestive disorders, and a host of other problems.

Diagnosing Celiac Disease

 Testing for Celiac disease can be done in several ways

  • Medical and family history –  As we know that this is a disease that can be passed to families member (genetic) doing a thorough history is critical to get the right diagnosis. It is important to also tell your doctor what  and  when your symptoms are to get the right diagnoses
  • Physical examination – Your doctor might ask if you have any skin issues, weight loss, pain, or growth problems especially kids
  • Blood test  – Blood samples are collected to measure the presence of gluten antibodies. If IgA and IgG immunoglobins are found that indicate positive for gluten.  
  • Biopsy  –   Using an endoscope a biopsy is done by removing tissue from the small intestine.  It is then examined under a microscope to prove damage to the villi which validates the presence of Celiac disease.

How to treat celiac Disease

There is no known cure for this disease. The only way to prevent more attacks and damage that causes an autoimmune disease is to eliminate foods that have gluten. 

By restricting gluten in your diet, healing of the small intestines is allowed to occur, resulting in the prevention of inflammation and stopping any further damage. It can be tricky at times since many foods with gluten are hidden from the consumer so one has to be extra cautious not to miss it. 

Gluten is also added to many things we use other than food such as medicine. Things as prescription drugs or over-the-counter (OTC) medicine, vitamins,  topicals, and even toothpaste.

The next step is to tackle nutritional deficiencies that happen due to the small intestine’s inability to absorb nutrients.
The nutrients that are lacking have to be replaced, like vitamin B 12, calcium, iron, zinc, and essential fatty acids before causing any more health issues.

It’s best to consult a dietitian who can assist with a gluten-free diet that fits your nutritional needs.  

Learning how to read food labels is imperative in preventing accidental ingestion of hidden gluten in some foods.  

Complications that may occur if the Celiac disease is left untreated are :

  • Malnutrition –  The lack of vitamins and minerals caused by the gluten
  • Weak bones – Lack of Vitamin and minerals for example calcium cause the bones to weaken
  • Cancer 
  • Neurological disorders like ataxia which is uncontrollable  muscle movements
  • Anemia

Final thoughts

Celiac disease can affect both children and adults, it is common in about 1 % of the American population.

Symptoms in children are more severe than in adults,  they include diarrhea, vomiting, constipation, gas, and delayed puberty.

In adults, digestional issues are less but poor malabsorption of nutrients is prevalent leading to complications such as Osteoporosis, fatigue, etc.

With the help of your health care provider and a holistic dietitian, following a strict gluten-free diet is the most crucial and the only way to prevent or stop celiac disease and gluten intolerance from dominating your health.


  1. https://www.webmd.com/digestive-disorders/celiac-disease/ss/slideshow-celiac-overview
  2. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/wheat-allergy/symptoms-causes/syc-20378897
  3. Facts & Statistics About Celiac Disease – Celiac Disease (celiac-disease.com)
  4. Visual Guide to Celiac Disease: Rash Pictures & More (webmd.com)
  5. Non-celiac gluten sensitivity: literature review – PubMed (nih.gov)
  6. https://celiac.org/about-celiac-disease/symptoms-of-celiac-disease/







4 thoughts on “What Is The Difference Between Gluten Intolerance And Celiac Disease?”

  1. Hi There

    This is a great article about the differences between the two different health issues. My wife is gluten intolerant and had many of the symptoms that you described. See saw her doctor and between them they worked out what she would need to do going forward.

    You have explained everything so well here and I hope that the people that need to read this find your article.

    Keep up the good writing.


    • Hi Kevin,

      Thanks for the wonderful comment and I hope your wife gets a full recovery, it might take some time to heal 

      but it is doable.

  2. This was a great article. I know someone who has celiac disease and the symptoms you describe are many of the ones she has. I think I may have a gluten intolerance as I often have many of the symptoms you mentioned. I`ll have to talk to my doctor about it. I now know the difference between a gluten intolerance and celiac disease. Thank you for writing this great article.

    • Hi Timothy,

      I’m glad you learned that you might have some of the symptoms of gluten intolerance and now you are taking action by bringing it attention to your healthcare provider. That’s a WIN! for me if this article can help even one person. Thanks for your fantastic feedback!


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