Let’s Get This Bread (Or Maybe Not): Celiac Disease vs. Gluten Intolerance


Posted By Author on July 10, 2024

A warm, toasty loaf of bread is both a mouth-watering delicacy and a basic necessity, with the power to be a source of joy and bring people together. As a centerpiece of meals in many cultures, what happens when the bread that was supposed to be joyful and fulfilling causes stomach pain and a tight, uncomfortable belly?

Gluten, a protein commonly found in some of our favorite Italian dishes such as pasta and bread, could be the source of your gastrointestinal woes. Is your gut trying to warn you of gluten sensitivity or indicate a more serious condition that could cause permanent damage? 

Follow along as our GI doctors in Charleston, SC work to help you understand the difference between celiac disease and gluten intolerance, from symptoms to treatment!

What is Gluten?


Before we start breaking down gluten intolerance and celiac disease, we have to start at the potential source of your GI tract troubles: Gluten. 

Gluten is a protein found in grains such as wheat, rye, barley, and triticale–a cross between wheat and rye. Most often found in foods that use these ingredients, it can also be found in medicines, vitamins, and supplements. 

Think of gluten like glue for food – it helps hold them together to maintain their shape. Foods that often contain gluten include the following: 

  • Breads
  • Pasta
  • Cereal 
  • Beer
  • Soups
  • Malt (think malt milkshakes or malt flavoring) 
  • Salad dressings 

Difference Between Celiac Disease and Gluten Intolerance 

The main difference between celiac disease and gluten intolerance lies in its longevity and long-term harm to the body and the gut. 

Celiac disease is a genetic autoimmune disorder that plagues around one percent of the U.S. population. For those with celiac disease, eating gluten causes a reaction inside the body that tells your immune system to attack and destroy the lining of the small intestine. 

If left untreated, the small intestine may become unable to absorb essential nutrients into the bloodstream and cause ongoing health concerns. 

Gluten intolerance, also referred to as non-celiac gluten sensitivity, is a less serious condition compared to its autoimmune disorder counterpart. If a person with a gluten intolerance consumes gluten, it will cause short-term symptoms, such as bloating and abdominal pain. 

While it can cause problems with your digestive system, you don’t have to worry about causing permanent damage to your stomach or intestines. 

If you believe gluten is the source of your tummy troubles, talk to one of our GI doctors near you to rule out more serious GI conditions that may lead to permanent damage. 

Similar Symptoms, Different Degrees of Severity (And When to See a Doctor) 

The line between celiac disease and gluten intolerance can be very thin. Despite the varying degrees of severity – permanent damage to your gut versus a tummy ache and bad gas – the symptoms are very similar. 

Commonly shared symptoms of gluten intolerance and celiac disease include: 

  • Bloating 
  • Gas and constipation 
  • Diarrhea 
  • Nausea
  • Abdominal aches and pain 

Celiac disease, however, may come to present itself through other symptoms that can be more severe, as they extend past the GI tract into other areas of the body. Hidden symptoms of celiac disease include: 

  • More severe stomach pain 
  • Headaches 
  • Joint and muscle pain 
  • Anemia 
  • Psychiatric disorders, such as depression 
  • Itchy sin 
  • Mouth ulcers and cavities 

The overlap in symptoms can be difficult to differentiate, especially since symptoms can improve by removing gluten from your diet. Trust your gut and, if something feels amiss, schedule an appointment with a gastroenterology specialist as soon as possible. 

When Should I See a Doctor? 

If you begin to notice that eating gluten, or gluten-rich foods, is causing any of the symptoms above, it could be a sign of gluten sensitivity or a more serious condition, like celiac disease. 

Visit a gastroenterologist near you to address concerns of gluten intolerance. While there is no single test that can diagnose non-celiac gluten sensitivity, our Charleston GI doctors can do blood tests and a potential endoscopy to rule out celiac disease. 

Is Gluten to Blame for My Stomach Pain? Contact Charleston GI for Help 

Living a life without gluten can be challenging but dismissing your symptoms as “nothing serious” can cost you more than a life without certain pastas ever could. 

Don’t dismiss your GI symptoms! Trust your gut and schedule an appointment at our gastroenterology clinic in Charleston. Our doctors will help assess your gut health and determine the root cause of your symptoms. 

You can still bring back the joy of breaking bread with your closest friends – just make sure it’s gluten-free. 

We have four convenient Charleston, SC area locations to choose from, in West Ashley, Mount Pleasant, Summerville, and Carnes Crossroads.

There’s no referral needed, so schedule your appointment today, with Charleston GI!