It is important to understand what celiac disease and grain sensitivity are before you can start to determine how to diagnosis them.
Celiac disease is an autoimmune disorder. People who suffer from autoimmune disorders have immune systems that respond inappropriately and begin to attack healthy body tissue. In people with celiac disease, their disorder is triggered by gluten, a protein found in wheat. When gluten is consumed, the body’s immune system attacks the villi in the small intestine. Villi are small finger-like appendages that line the small intestine and absorb the nutrients of the food you eat. So when the villi are attacked and damaged, the body cannot absorb all the nutrients it needs.
Grain sensitivity is not a disorder. It is what its name implies: sensitivity to the consumption of grain (or gluten). It is not an allergy. Simply put, with grain sensitivity, a person’s body will be mildly irritated by the consumption of gluten. Someone suffering from grain sensitivity can experience a lot of the same symptoms as a person suffering from celiac disease without the severity of the immune disorder.
Diagnosing celiac disease is extremely difficult. According to the National Foundation of Celiac Awareness, “3 million Americans have celiac disease, but only about 5% of them are ever accurately diagnosed.” What makes diagnosing celiac disease so difficult? There are hundreds of different symptoms that can present with celiac disease. The most common symptoms are chronic diarrhea/constipation, fatigue, stomach pain, anemia and nausea. Since people are affected differently by celiac disease, with some people presenting with no symptoms at all, it can be hard to pin down.
The best way to find out if your symptoms may point to celiac disease is to try a gluten free diet. If, after a month or more without gluten, your symptoms have improved, there is a good chance you suffer from grain sensitivity or celiac disease. Talk to your doctor about your concerns to see if more testing is needed. The two most common ways of testing for celiac disease are antibody blood testing and a biopsy of the small intestine.
The antibody blood test requires a blood draw. When a person with celiac disease eats gluten, their immune system produces a higher amount of two specific antibodies. If the levels of these two antibodies are higher than normal when a person’s blood is tested, he will require the biopsy of the small intestine, or endoscopic biopsy, to confirm a diagnosis of celiac disease. A doctor may order one type of test or a panel of blood tests before deciding on the need for an endoscopic biopsy.
During an endoscopic biopsy, a patient is given a sedative. The doctor, a gastroenterologist, will insert a flexible tube that contains a light source and a tiny camera in its tip. The tube, or endoscope, will be inserted through the patient’s mouth, down into their small intestine. The doctor will examine the small intestine for any visible damage and will take a small sample of tissue to check for damage to the villi.
The only treatment for celiac disease and grain sensitivity is following a gluten free diet. This can be a challenge for a lot of people as wheat is used in most types of food that Americans consume. It may seem drastic and difficult to be tested for celiac disease and have to maintain a strict gluten free diet. Some people may believe that continuing to eat the gluten rich foods they love is worth the chronic diarrhea and stomach pain. But celiac disease has been linked to some conditions that most people will not want to live with. Infertility, migraines, anxiety, depression, nerve damage, osteoporosis, muscle weakness, seizures, skin lesions, autism, and dementia are just some of a long list of outwardly unrelated conditions that are caused by celiac disease.