How to Recognize Gluten Intolerance

Four Parts:Gluten Cheat SheetsImmediate SymptomsLong-Term SymptomsWhat to Do

Doctors estimate that 1 percent of the population has celiac disease, which is damage to the small intestine caused by an intolerance to gluten. Gluten is a protein found in wheat, rye, and barley products. Even people who don't have celiac disease may display intestinal or immune system reactions to gluten, and doctors think that about 15 percent of the population may have a gluten sensitivity.[1] While no medical test for gluten intolerance currently exists, you can take several steps to recognize gluten intolerance in your body and start down the road to a healthier future.

Gluten Cheat Sheets

Gluten Substitution Chart

Sample Gluten Free Foods

Sample Foods That Contain Gluten

Part 1
Immediate Symptoms

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    Pay attention to energy your energy level after you eat foods containing gluten. Occasionally, energy levels may slightly dip after consuming a large meal, while your body works to digest the food.
    • Because gluten intolerant individuals have to work harder to try to fight the effects in the digestive tract, they commonly feel fatigue after eating.

    • Unlike the occasional lethargy that may occur from time to time, people suffering from gluten intolerance may be completely exhausted after their meals.

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    Examine your mental and emotional status after eating wheat or products containing wheat. Many individuals suffering from gluten intolerance complain of irritability after eating.
    • Irritability may be related to fatigue or can occur as a result of feeling run down in general, similar to how one feels when sick with a cold or flu.

    • Some people with gluten intolerance report having a "foggy mind" right after they eat. In other words, they easily lose their train of thought and find concentration difficult.

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    Notice when headaches develop after a meal. Headache symptoms are non-specific, and can mimic migraines, tension headaches or cluster headaches. While there is no specific type of headache associated with gluten intolerance, the headache pattern consistently occurs within 30 minutes to an hour after eating for many individuals.
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    Observe changes in your extremities. Often, people with gluten intolerance experience joint pain, and they sometimes experience numbness or tingling in their arms and legs.
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    Watch for symptoms associated with poor digestive health. While people with gluten sensitivity tend to have more non-gastrointestinal symptoms than people with celiac, they can still experience GI discomfort. After a meal, they may experience bloating, gas, diarrhea, constipation and stomach pain.[2]

Part 2
Long-Term Symptoms

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    Make note of fluctuations in weight. Gluten sensitivities are most notably associated with weight loss, but gluten intolerance can also result in unexplained weight gain over time.
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    Pay attention to prolonged changes in mental status. The onset of depression, behavioral changes or mood fluctuations can be caused by gluten intolerance. Include all details associated with your mental symptoms, including the severity of your symptoms and how often they occur.
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    Keep detailed notes about any rashes that develop, including eczema. Photograph the rash if possible, and measure its circumference if the rash is in a localized spot. Make the following notes for yourself:
    • Describe the appearance and characteristics of the rash. Is it raised, flat, circular or blotchy? Do you notice blisters?
    • How does the rash feel? Is it itchy, painful or inflamed?
    • Which conditions make it worse? In other words does tight clothing, hot showers or baths, or humidity make the rash more irritating?
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    Keep track of women’s health issues such as irregular menstrual cycles, premenstrual syndrome (PMS), severe menstrual cramping, miscarriage and infertility. Some doctors now routinely investigate the possibility of a gluten sensitivity in couples who are unsuccessfully trying to conceive and are suffering from unexplained infertility.

Part 3
What to Do

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    Make an appointment with your doctor to rule out celiac disease and gluten allergy. These are 2 serious conditions that can cause long-term health complications if left untreated.
    • Gluten allergy: Symptoms include itching, swelling and irritation around the mouth; itchy rash or hives; nasal congestion and itchy eyes; cramps, nausea, vomiting or diarrhea; difficulty breathing and anaphylaxis. Gluten allergies are most common in children and are usually outgrown by the age of 5. A skin test or blood test can identify gluten allergies.[3]
    • Celiac disease: Celiac disease is an immune reactions that progressively destroys the nutrient-absorbing villi in your small intestine. Your body may not absorb nutrients properly, and your small intestine can become permeable, meaning that its contents leak into your gut. Celiac disease can be identified with a blood test and an intestinal biopsy.
    • If both tests are negative and you suspect you may be sensitive to gluten, a gluten intolerance may be the underlying cause.
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    Speak with your doctor and inquire about diagnostic tests that can detect conditions related to gluten intolerance. Although the tests cannot confirm a sensitivity to gluten, they can confirm the presence of some conditions that commonly occur as a result of gluten intolerance. Some related conditions include:
    • Low iron levels
    • Fat in the stool
    • Poor dental health due to malnourishment
    • Poor calcium absorption
    • Delayed growth in children
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    Eliminate all gluten containing foods from your diet for 2 to 4 weeks. Be on the lookout for hidden sources of gluten in salad dressings, condiments, soups, sauces and even cosmetics. Even vitamins and supplements can contain gluten. Always check ingredient labels on all food and cosmetic products.
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    Keep a symptom tracker journal to note any changes that occur over the course of the diet. Revisit the symptoms pages and notice whether any of the listed symptoms have improved or disappeared since eliminating gluten from your diet.
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    Reintroduce gluten into your diet after the elimination period has ended. Pay attention to how you feel when you begin eating gluten again. If vanished symptoms return after you reintegrate gluten and you feel worse than you did when you were on the elimination diet, you may have confirmed a gluten intolerance.
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    Eliminate gluten permanently from your diet once you have discovered a likely gluten intolerance. To correct the conditions that develop as a result of a gluten intolerance, you will need to eliminate the cause and not just treat the symptoms.
    • Replace gluten-containing foods such as wheat, barley, rye, semolina and spelt with comparable replacements that do not contain gluten, such as arrowroot, peanut flour, quinoa, rice flour and soy flour. Try these tips from the National Institutes of Health to learn what you can and can't eat.

    • Unlike a gluten allergy, which may improve eventually over time, a general intolerance to gluten is a permanent condition in most individuals.


  • One common, hidden source of gluten in processed foods is labeled "natural flavor".
  • Watch out for hidden gluten such as malt (a barley product) and modified food starch unless it specifically says from corn.
  • Symptoms of gluten intolerance can be exacerbated by pregnancy and childbirth, illness and infection, stress and surgery.
  • Just because a product is labeled "gluten-free" doesn't mean that the product is good for you. Also, going gluten-free isn't a guaranteed way to lose weight.


  • Never start your child on an elimination diet without consulting your pediatrician. He or she will want to first rule out celiac disease and a gluten allergy. If the doctor believes your child may benefit from an elimination diet, he or she will provide proper instructions and continued supervision throughout the process.
  • Left untreated, gluten sensitivity is associated not only with reproductive disorders in females but also autoimmune disorders, osteoporosis, intestinal cancer and liver disease.[4]

Things You'll Need

  • Diary to track meals and symptoms
  • Gluten-free diet

Article Info

Categories: Allergies and Immunization