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How To Know If You Have Celiac's Disease Not IBS

Aug 28, 2008
One of the reasons that many cases of Celiac's disease go undiagnosed is that doctors mistakenly believe patients to be suffering from Irritable Bowel Syndrome, or IBS. IBS is one of the most common disorders that US doctors see, with an estimated 20% of Americans suffering from it at some point.

The reason Celiac's is commonly misdiagnosed as IBS is that the initial symptoms can be very similar. In both cases patients often report stomach pains or cramps, bloating, excessive wind, and diarrhea or constipation.

The symptoms of Celiac's disease are actually caused by the consumption of wheat or gluten and the symptoms of IBS, while not directly caused by eating wheat products, can be aggravated in this way. However, as you will see, the causes and effects of IBS and Celiac's disease are very different.

Differences in the causes of Celiac's disease and IBS

Celiac's disease is an autoimmune disease, where the immune system attacks gluten in the digestive system, damaging the tissue of the intestines at the same time. Celiacs are genetically predisposed to the disease, but can develop it at any age. It can be triggered by a stressful event such as surgery or pregnancy.

The causes of IBS, on the other hand, are not well understood. Many believe it originates in the central nervous system with changes in the nerves that control sensation or muscle contractions in the bowel. The walls of the bowels or intestines, which usually contract rhythmically to allow food to pass through, start to contract irregularly, meaning that food is pushed through too quickly or too slowly. Because IBS tends to affect women more than men, hormone changes are also thought to play a part.

The triggers for IBS and Celiac's often appear to be similar. IBS can be triggered by stress or a particular illness such as gastroenteritis in the same way as Celiac's disease. IBS can also be triggered by eating certain types of food that the body is intolerant to, including foods that contain gluten, but gluten does not cause the symptoms of IBS as it does with Celiac's disease, it only aggravates them. With IBS, the immune system does not produce antibodies to fight the food that is aggravating the condition, as it does with Celiac's disease.

The long term effects of Celiac's and IBS

The crucial difference between Celiac's and IBS, is that with Celiac's disease the gut is actually damaged by the gluten fighting antibodies, leading to long term complications, whereas with IBS, although the gut may be inflamed, no long term damage is done.

The effects of IBS are likely to be more emotional than physical as people find it hard to lead a normal, happy life, while experiencing IBS symptoms. The complications associated with Celiac's disease can be as severe as malnutrition, osteoporosis, and possibly bowel cancer, although the link between these two diseases is often contested.

As you can see, it is essential for Celiac's disease to be properly diagnosed so that the correct treatment can be begun. If your doctor wrongly diagnoses your condition as IBS and you continue to include foods that contain gluten in your diet, the damage to your gut will only increase leading to worse symptoms and long term complications.

If you suspect you have Celiac's disease, rather than IBS, especially if you have a close relative that suffers from the disease, go back to your doctor, and if necessary get a second opinion. A simple blood test could be all you need to know whether your condition is Celiac's disease or IBS.
About the Author
Sean Ambrose runs http://www.gluten-answers.com the web's most thorough source on providing free information on learning to manage a Gluten free diet successfully.
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