No, it is actually much worse.
Same symptoms, different conditions
There is a lot of confusion behind gluten intolerance and its most severe form, celiac disease, and for a perfectly understandable reason. Assessing an individual suffering from gluten intolerance and another person diagnosed with celiac disease just by looking at their symptoms will leave you feeling confused too.
The symptoms are the same.
So if you suffer from abdominal pain, anxiety, bloating, brain fog, constipation, diarrhoea, depression, headache, joint and muscle pain, or skin rashes after eating wheat bread or other gluten-rich foods, you simply cannot self-diagnose and claim you are sensitive to gluten, or you have celiac disease.
The differentiating factors
Celiac disease is a genetic, lifelong and autoimmune disease that affects 1% of the population. More than 80% of individuals suffering from celiac disease have not yet been diagnosed.
Gluten intolerance, on the other hand, is estimated to affect a higher number of people, up to 13% of the population or possibly more.
Aside from statistics, another major difference between celiac disease and gluten intolerance is the severity and type of effect that gluten has on your body. If you have been diagnosed with celiac disease and you continue to eat gluten-rich foods such as wheat, barley and rye, you will not only experience the symptoms listed above, but also damage your digestive system. Once your body detects the presence of gluten, it sends a signal to your immune system to attack your villi, which are finger-like parts of your small intestine that aids in nutrient absorption. Frequent attacks to your villi may result to villous atrophy, which can lead to more serious health conditions such as malnutrition, osteoporosis and even cancer.
Individuals suffering from gluten intolerance are regarded safe from this long-term digestive system damage when they consume gluten, but are still susceptible to the same digestive, physical and neurological symptoms.
Right diagnosis, proper treatment
Diagnostic tests are performed by healthcare professionals to help individuals get to the bottom of their symptoms and receive a more accurate diagnosis. Self-diagnosing is not advisable as it poses a huge risk for error.
The diagnostic process for celiac disease requires the patient to consume a gluten-rich diet. When the blood test results turn out positive, a biopsy of the small intestine is performed.
Testing for gluten intolerance involves an elimination diet of gluten or wheat. If the individual experiences symptomatic relief, this finding may serve as the basis for a gluten intolerance diagnosis. The norm for health experts with patients suffering from gluten intolerance symptoms is to first and foremost, rule out celiac disease or wheat allergy.
At present, a gluten-free diet is recognised as the only treatment for celiac disease and gluten intolerance. With the help of a qualified dietitian or nutritionist, maintaining a gluten-free diet for life (required for those diagnosed with celiac disease) doesn’t have to be as daunting as it seems.