Medical questions & health advice by board certified doctors
"Is it possible I'm gluten intolerant, and is there a test to find out?"
I'm a 45-year-old woman and I've been experiencing a variety of annoying symptoms, including mild but persistent intestinal distress (gas, bloating) and generally feeling more worn down than usual. I don't really feel sick, but I don't feel great. A friend who claims she is gluten intolerant suggested that I might be, too. She says that many problems she was experiencing improved when she gave up all foods containing wheat and some other grains. Is gluten intolerance really a common condition? Is it possible to develop this kind of food intolerance as you get older? Is there a test I can take to find out if I'm gluten intolerant?
It is certainly possible that you may be suffering from gluten intolerance, otherwise known as gluten-sensitive enteropathy or celiac Sprue. This problem may affect up to 1 percent of the general population, and is often not diagnosed until patients are in their 20s, 30s or 40s. Most patients with celiac disease complain of watery diarrhea from malabsorption of nutrients; this can lead to excessive flatulence, bloating, weight loss, anemia and poor overall nutritional status. Regardless of whether or not you actually have celiac disease, you should seek further evaluation with your primary care physician or a gastroenterologist. Your PCP can perform blood tests to help diagnose celiac disease (such as anti-tissue transglutaminase antibody levels), and further check for anemia and iron-deficiency. If you are having diarrhea, then the stool can also be tested to make sure there is no concurrent infection. Your PCP can also consider other causes of excessive gas and bloating, such as lactose intolerance and small intestinal bacterial overgrowth, which can also cause these problems. In the event that you are diagnosed with celiac disease, then following a gluten-free diet should lead to resolution of your symptoms.