The Difference Between Celiac Disease
And Irritable Bowel Syndrome

Celiac disease and Irritable Bowel Syndrome can produce similar symptoms, but I will show you the difference between the two.

Some people with the condition can be misdiagnosed as having IBS. 

So, what causes the condition, how is the diagnosis made and what treatment do you need?

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What Causes Celiac Disease?

The symptoms are caused by gluten, a protein which is present in wheat, rye and barley.

The small bowel is sensitive to this protein and causes the absorptive surface or villi (frond-like projections in the bowel) to shrink and is known as subtotal villus atrophy.

Who Gets The Condition?

The disease affects people of any age, but is often diagnosed in both young and old, although the average age of diagnosis is 45 years.

It is a common condition and affects approximately 1 in 100 people in the UK.

The problem with celiac disease and Irritable Bowel Syndrome sufferers is that they can both be sensitive to gluten, in the latter it is referred to as gluten intolerance.

What Are The Symptoms?

Celiac Disease and Irritable Bowel Symptoms

People with celiac disease can present with a whole multitude of different symptoms including tiredness, bloating, diarrhea, abdominal pain, loss of weight, anemia, rashes (a condition called dermatitis herpetaformis), osteoporosis and in babies 'failure to thrive' due to poor growth.

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Tests To Distinguish Celiac Disease And Irritable Bowel Syndrome

If you display any on the above celiac disease symptoms then then you will require some tests.

There are a couple of very good blood tests that can pick up the condition.

The first blood test is the TTG antibody or tissue transglutaminase antibody which your doctor can check.

If this test is positive, then a further blood test called the anti-EMA test or anti-endomysial antibody can be checked to confirm the likely diagnosis.

If these tests are positive, your doctor can refer you to a gastroenterologist to confirm the diagnosis.

The diagnosis is normally confirmed by performing an UGI endoscopy (camera test to look in the upper part of the gastrointestinal tract).

The camera is passed through the stomach into the small bowel and a biopsy is taken from the end duodenum.

The test is usually done when you have been eating gluten in your diet for at least 2 weeks.

Most people with the condition don't want to do this because of the symptoms they experience, but it really is the best way to make the diagnosis.

The biopsy can then be processed, looking for subtotal villus atrophy plus other features of the condition.

Other blood tests can be performed looking for B12, iron and folate deficiencies which are common in this condition.

Also, your doctor will check your full blood count, kidney and liver blood tests as well as calcium levels.

How Is It Treated?

There is no drug treatment for celiac disease symptoms. It is treated by a change in your diet.

As mentioned, gluten is found in wheat, rye and barley so foods containing these should be avoided.

Oats are fine, as long as there has been no cross contamination as some farmers use the same equipment in harvesting both wheat and oats. Also, cross pollination can occur.

Common foods to be avoided include bread, biscuits, cakes, some cereals.

These can be supplemented with gluten free alternatives and you can obtain further information on this from organizations such as:

In summary, the symptoms are similar to IBS symptoms and can sometimes be misdiagnosed as a consequence.

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