If you get stomach cramps and feel bloated after eating a sandwich on wheat bread or a bowl of pasta, do you have celiac disease? A wheat allergy? Or neither?
They’re good questions that more people are asking these days. The prevalence of celiac disease and wheat allergies are on the rise in part due to more screening and greater awareness. If you experience discomfort after eating products with wheat in them, how do you know the difference and what you should you do? Read on.
Celiac disease and wheat allergies share some common aspects, but they’re fundamentally different. Celiac disease is a genetic autoimmune disease that causes the body to attack the small intestine when a person with the disease eats gluten, a protein found in wheat. A wheat allergy is an allergic reaction to wheat whether it’s consumed or inhaled, for instance breathing in particles of wheat flour. If you have a wheat allergy, the body triggers an immune defense against the wheat which can lead to a range of symptoms.
There is an overlap in symptoms between the two conditions including abdominal pain, bloating, diarrhea, and constipation. If you have celiac disease, you may also experience fatigue, headaches, anemia, weight loss, joint pain, and low vitamin D and vitamin B12 levels. In addition to stomach issues, wheat allergies can trigger hives, congestion, sneezing, and asthma -- symptoms generally not associated with celiac disease.
Celiac disease is usually diagnosed by a gastroenterologist, a doctor who specializes in stomach and intestinal disorders, with a blood test and sometimes a biopsy. Wheat allergies can be diagnosed by an allergist who will take a medical history and may conduct a skin prick or blood test to confirm the diagnosis.
If you notice that you have stomach issues, discomfort, or allergy-like symptoms when you eat wheat, start by talking with your primary care doctor about your condition.
Anyone living with either condition should avoid products containing wheat. But for people with celiac disease, that avoidance should be total and lifelong. You don’t grow out of celiac disease and even tiny amounts of gluten contaminating gluten-free foods can lead to damage to the intestine and contribute to long-term, serious health problems including bone weakness, infertility, and nervous system disorders. People with wheat allergies who eat wheat products may experience a range of temporary symptoms from mild – like a runny nose – to severe including anaphylaxis.
When you need to avoid wheat to protect your health, education is key. That means knowing all about the types of wheats and grains you shouldn’t eat, learning how to read food labels carefully, and being aware that wheat is also found in non-food items including some medications, cosmetics, and bath products.
Particularly if you or a loved one has celiac disease, preparing meals with the right nutritional balance but no gluten can be challenging. Mom’s Meals® makes it easy – and safe – with a full gluten-free menu that contain less than 20 parts per million (ppm) of gluten in each meal, a level proposed by the FDA. Mom’s Meals are also tested using the ELISA method, a biochemical technique designed to assess food for gluten. Find more details here.