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Causes, Symptoms, Treatment & Various Tests for Gluten Allergy

Submitted on March 27, 2012

The term gluten allergy is a misnomer for celiac disease, which is a medical condition in which the body is not able to process and digest gluten. In this disease, the lining of the small intestines gets damaged. This prevents the intestines from completely absorbing certain parts of food which are vital for staying healthy. Consuming gluten in celiac disease can damage the lining further by reacting with it.

Gluten occurs naturally in cereals such as barley, wheat, oats and rye. The exact cause of this disease remains unknown, but it is known that the villi get damaged because of the reaction with gluten. The damage to the villi can affect the body's ability to absorb all the nutrients. No matter how much a person eats, they remain malnourished. Though this disease has some genetic linkage, people may develop it at any point in their life. It is possible for infants to be born with this disease and some people develop it in late adulthood.

Since celiac disease is genetic, people who have a member in the family with the disease are more prone to develop the disease. The disease is most common in Europeans and Caucasians. Women are more prone to developing the disease.

Tests Recommended

There is no single gluten allergy test, and the doctor may recommend several tests before making a final diagnosis. Some of the most commonly prescribed tests include:

  • Serum albumin: in celiac disease, the albumin levels may be low
  • Alkaline phosphatase: increased levels of alkaline phosphatase are a sign of bone loss
  • Clotting factor: there are often abnormalities in clotting factor
  • Cholesterol: the cholesterol levels are usually low in celiac disease
  • Complete Blood Count: this test is performed to check for anemia
  • Transaminases: a test for liver enzymes
  • Prthrombin time: to check for clotting time

In addition, doctors also recommend blood tests to detect specific antibodies related to autoimmune disorders. When celiac disease is suspected, this is the first blood test a doctor orders. An upper endoscopy can show any damage to the small intestines. Doctors often perform a biopsy of the small intestines to see if the villi are flattened or damaged. In case the result comes positive, celiac disease is confirmed. Genetic testing of blood is often also performed to check if other family members are also at risk of developing celiac disease. Once the initial biopsy is done, another follow up biopsy is usually ordered several months after the first one. This is usually to see if the patient has been responding positively to the treatment.

Causes

Exact gluten allergy causes are not known, but research has shown the presence of autoimmune disorders in most patients complaining of gluten allergy and celiac disease. Some of the autoimmune diseases associated with gluten allergy include systematic lupus erythematosus, rheumatoid arthritis, and Sjogren syndrome.

In addition to this, some other diseases may also be associated with gluten allergy including Down syndrome, lactose intolerance, intestinal cancer, thyroid disease, Addison's disease, intestinal lymphoma, and type 1 diabetes. Though these diseases are associated with gluten allergy, it does not mean that a person having them will definitely experience celiac disease as well.

Symptoms

The symptoms of celiac disease differ from one person to another, and therefore, it is not always easy to diagnose the condition right away. Some of the most pressing gluten allergy symptoms include:

  • Bloating and gas
  • Abdominal pain
  • Indigestion, vomiting, and diarrhea
  • Constipation
  • Change in appetite. Some people experience a decrease in their appetite, while others experience an increase.
  • Lactose intolerance.
  • Foul smelling, fatty stools that float.
  • Unexplained weight loss and fatigue.

Apart from these gastrointestinal symptoms, there are some other symptoms as well. Since the body is not able to absorb some of the most vital nutrients, this causes a number of other, unrelated symptoms to appear. Some of the common ones include:

  • Skin problems such as rashes, itching, bruising, and bleeding easily
  • Mouth ulcers
  • Growth delay, especially in children
  • Malnourishment
  • Depression and anxiety
  • Hair loss
  • Problems with menstrual cycle
  • Muscle cramping and aching
  • Joint pain
  • Seizures
  • Numbness in hands and feet
  • Nosebleeds
  • Weakness and anemia

In children, celiac disease may trigger other allergies such as asthma and cause developmental problems as well. Some of these include:

  • Defects in dental development such as faulty tooth enamel
  • Irritability and fussy behavior
  • Delayed puberty
  • Nausea, vomiting, diarrhea or constipation, sometimes all of them
  • Slowed development such as less than normal muscle gain, poor height growth and poor weight gain

Treatment

There is no cure for this condition; however, gluten allergy treatment is based on medications and a strict and controlled diet. For most people who follow a gluten free diet, the villi of the small intestines begin to heal and the disease can be managed. The diet is strict though, and the patient needs to avoid foods and beverages that contain rye, barley, oats and wheat. Your doctor will be able to recommend you a gluten free diet and a medical routine to ensure that the disease does not flare up again.

References

  • http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/000233.htm
  • http://digestive.niddk.nih.gov/ddiseases/pubs/celiac_ez/
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