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When Should You Test Yourself For A Gluten Allergy?

by Bonnie Gordon

Gluten intolerance and the gluten-free lifestyle have been headline news for years now—however, many Americans still know very little about this condition. With 18 million Americans (or nearly 1 in 20 people) now showing some type of gluten sensitivity, it's possible that you or a loved one is affected by this intolerance, and you may not even know it. Gluten sensitivities don't always manifest themselves through digestive discomforts—you might have sore or achy joints, headaches, or even dizziness and confusion. If you think it's possible some of your aches and pains could be due to the food you're consuming, read on to learn more about gluten intolerance and how you can be tested. 

What are some symptoms of gluten sensitivity? 

There is a wide range of immune responses to gluten, and because symptoms vary so widely, many may eliminate other potential problem foods from their diet (like caffeinated drinks or fatty or spicy foods) long before considering gluten as the culprit.

Most individuals do not respond to gluten at all, and don't show any signs of sensitivity. Others may have intermittent symptoms, like headaches or bloating the morning after consuming bread or wheat-based alcohols, or joint pain and puffiness that could be reminiscent of rheumatoid arthritis. These symptoms usually go away on their own, and may not recur the next time gluten is consumed, so can be difficult to diagnose. 

Farther down the scale are those who have severe reactions each time they eat gluten. In these cases, it's usually easier to make the connection between gluten consumption and symptoms. 

At the most sensitive end are those with celiac disease. These individuals' sensitivities go past intolerance to a full-blown gluten allergy. Consumption of gluten can have a number of negative effects, including nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and uncontrolled weight loss. Over time, consumption of gluten by an individual with celiac disease will cause the body's antibodies to attack this individual's own intestinal lining, causing permanent damage.

When should you be tested for gluten sensitivity? 

If you periodically suffer from sore, achy joints, headaches, or confusion, it may be worthwhile to have yourself tested for a gluten intolerance (at clinics like Allergy Asthma & Immunology Center). Unfortunately, there's no quick and easy test to determine if you are sensitive to gluten—you'll need to undergo a controlled gluten-consumption diet and track your symptoms to determine whether eliminating gluten from your diet helps eliminate your symptoms.

For those with severe allergies, this test is usually a short one—after a day or two of consuming gluten, the symptoms may be so upsetting it's clear that eliminating gluten is the way to go. Those with milder sensitivities may need to keep up this regimen for several weeks. However, you'll be under the supervision of a doctor during the duration of this process, so this test is a relatively safe one. 

Once you've been diagnosed with a gluten sensitivity or allergy, your doctor will be able to work with you on eliminating glutenous foods from your diet to help you successfully manage your symptoms for years to come.