Celiac Disease vs a Wheat Allergy

Wheat allergy is sometimes confused with celiac disease, but these are two distinct conditions. While both involve reactions to wheat-containing foods and treatment requires you to avoid certain dietary components, there are differences.

Let’s take a closer look at each of these conditions so that you better understand what a diagnosis of wheat allergy or celiac disease means for you. 

Celiac disease is an autoimmune disorder that affects your small intestine. People with celiac disease experience non-allergic immune reactions in response to ingesting gluten, a protein found in wheat, rye, and barley.

In celiac disease, the body produces certain antibodies in response to gluten. The autoimmune attack causes damage to the finger-like protrusions called villi that line the small intestine. Over time this damage can lead to nutrient deficiencies. 

Symptoms of celiac can vary greatly from person to person. There are more than 200 identified symptoms associated with celiac disease. Additionally, the condition can present in a classical, non-classical, or silent form.

Classical celiac disease

People with the classical form of celiac disease experience typical gastrointestinal symptoms when they eat a gluten-containing diet, such as:

Non-classical celiac disease

Individuals with non-classical celiac disease have vague or unrelated symptoms that are easy to miss or are easily confused with other conditions. This may cause a delay in diagnosis.

Common symptoms of non-classical celiac disease include: 

Silent celiac disease

In people with silent celiac disease, damage to the small intestine occurs without obvious symptoms or discomfort. You are less likely to know that you have celiac disease if you have this asymptomatic form.

Having a close relative with celiac increases the risk of developing silent celiac disease. This makes it important to screen for the condition if you have a family history.

Wheat allergy

Gluten is one protein found in wheat. However, wheat contains hundreds of proteins. Individuals with a wheat allergy experience an allergic immune response to one of the many proteins in wheat. In response the body produces immunoglobulin E (IgE) antibodies, and this causes an allergic reaction that can involve a wide range of symptoms.

Wheat allergy symptoms may include:

The allergic reaction does not cause an attack on your own tissues, and a person with a wheat allergy can tolerate gluten from non-wheat sources. Wheat allergy is one of the eight most common food allergies in the United States.

Do I have a wheat allergy or celiac disease?

Proper diagnosis is key to following the diet that is right for you. Here at Illinois Gastroenterology Group, our board-certified gastroenterologists have extensive experience diagnosing conditions that affect the gastrointestinal system, including celiac disease.

Screening for celiac disease involves blood testing to check for specific antibodies followed by an intestinal biopsy if you have a positive blood test.

To check for a wheat allergy, a skin prick test to check your reaction to wheat and a blood test to detect antibodies specific to wheat are commonly performed by an allergist. 

Once you have the answers you need, your doctor provides guidance on the appropriate diet to manage your condition and avoid health complications.

If you have symptoms or risk factors for celiac disease, it’s wise to visit a specialist. To get started, call the office nearest you to schedule an appointment with one of our gastroenterologists. We have offices in Elgin, South Elgin, and Lake in the Hills, Illinois. New and existing patients can also request an appointment online using our web form.

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