Celiac Disease vs. Non-Celiac Gluten Intolerance
With celiac disease, or gluten allergy, the body exhibits an immune response in the small intestine whenever gluten protein is present. Such a reaction aggravates the intestinal lining and damages the little "hairs" (villi) covering the wall of the digestive tract. In properly functioning organs, these villi will help push food along the intestinal tube while aiding in the absorption of nutrients into the bloodstream. In patients with celiac disease, this absorption process is impeded and can lead to cases of rapid weight loss and eventual malnutrition if left untreated.
A simple blood test can help reveal whether someone has celiac disease by measuring the antibody count in their bloodstream. People with non-celiac gluten intolerance may experience similar symptoms to those with celiac disease encounter, but for one reason or another, their blood work came back negative or inconclusive. In these cases, certain antibody counts were not high enough to signify celiac disease, although they did indicate a gluten sensitivity.
Common symptoms of both celiac disease and non-celiac gluten intolerance involve indigestion, bloating, diarrhea, fatigue, nausea, swelling, skin rash, nutrient deficiency, bone density loss, irritability, depression and sometimes no symptoms at all. The fact that expressions of gluten sensitivity can vary so greatly from person to person—or be completely invisible—makes diagnosing patients with this issue very difficult.
Oftentimes, those people who eventually end up being diagnosed with gluten intolerance or allergy, whether through antibody testing or elimination dieting, will first be diagnosed with Irritable Bowel Syndrome or Irritable Bowel Disease, delaying their recovery. These kinds of intestinal disorders, while similar in effect, stem from a very different cause and are treated with therapies that include medication and sometimes surgery. People with celiac disease rarely benefit from these treatments, as neither addresses the root irritant: gluten in the diet.
So what's the cure?