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House Call

Q: Is there a difference between being sensitive to gluten and having celiac disease?

A: Gluten is a substance found in cereal grains, especially wheat. It gives dough its elastic texture. An abnormal immune system reaction to gluten in wheat, barley and rye products causes celiac disease. That reaction can result in damage to your intestines. Sensitivity to gluten does not necessarily mean you have celiac disease. Rather, you may experience some of the same symptoms but without the intestinal damage from celiac disease.

Sensitivity to gluten may be associated with feelings of bloating, headache, fatigue or drowsiness. There are no blood tests for diagnosing it, but if you have those symptoms, talk to your physician. Many people who are sensitive to gluten report feeling better within a few days after going gluten-free.

A gluten-free diet is therapeutic primarily for people with celiac disease. There are blood tests for diagnosing it. As long as you have a well-balanced diet, there’s no harm in eliminating gluten. If you don’t have celiac or gluten sensitivity, you may reap little benefit from adopting a diet without it.

Dr. Appathurai Balamurugan is chief resident of the Department of Family & Preventive Medicine in the College of Medicine at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences. E-mail your health questions to Dr. Balamurugan at housecall@uams.edu.

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