Celiac Disease: Alleviating Gastrointestinal Symptoms

Reviewed by Sarah Klemm, RDN, CD, LDN
Digestive Engine - Celiac Disease: Alleviating Gastrointestinal Symptoms


Diet is the primary treatment for celiac disease and following a gluten-free diet significantly reduces many symptoms of the condition. People with celiac disease may experience gastrointestinal symptoms like diarrhea, constipation, abdominal pain, bloating, nausea and vomiting, as well as other symptoms.

Celiac disease may be diagnosed with the use of different tests. A blood test can detect certain antibodies, which are proteins in your blood, and are associated with celiac disease. Another test which is used to confirm a diagnosis of celiac disease is a biopsy of the small intestine. For either of these tests to be accurate, the individual must be consuming gluten on a regular basis. If you believe you may have celiac disease, see your doctor before going on a gluten-free diet.

Reduce Side Effects with Diet

Children with celiac disease are more likely than adults to experience gastrointestinal symptoms. More common digestive symptoms for adults include bloating, abdominal pain and stomach ulcers. Other symptoms adults may be more likely to experience include anemia, depression or anxiety, a rash known as dermatitis herpetiformis, headaches, infertility and joint pain.

For individuals who do have digestive symptoms, diarrhea is considered to be one of the most common and distressing symptoms. It’s estimated around half of adults with celiac disease experience diarrhea. However, research shows that following a gluten-free diet improves diarrhea and other symptoms in the majority of patients. Although, the amount of time needed to see symptoms resolve on a gluten-free diet may vary.

It’s estimated up to 30% of individuals with celiac disease may continue to struggle with symptoms, such as diarrhea or constipation, even after several months of following a gluten-free diet. For some individuals, continuing to accidentally consume gluten may be part of the problem. A registered dietitian nutritionist can provide further guidance on following a gluten-free diet, where hidden sources of gluten may be and tips for meeting nutrient needs.

Seeking guidance and treatment from a physician that specializes in celiac disease can also help rule out any other health conditions. Other health issues can resemble or be present in addition to celiac disease, including small intestinal bacterial overgrowth, lactose intolerance, or pancreatic insufficiency. Some individuals with celiac disease also may experience other gastrointestinal problems such as irritable bowel syndrome and inflammation of the colon.

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