Mysterious symptoms reveal gluten allergy
From Spotlight on Health - Fall 2009
After a year of taking multiple rounds of antibiotics for chronic tonsillitis, I began to have strange symptoms. In January 2009 while attending Concordia College in Moorhead, I would lie awake for hours at night tossing and turning. Ambien (a sleeping aid) offered no relief. Instead, I felt more fatigued.
One stress-filled day, after I ate a sandwich and crackers, my tongue swelled to double its normal size and my back muscles ached. I thought I had a virus.
Three weeks passed with no improvement. I developed sores on my gums and always felt like I needed to go the bathroom. After visiting five different doctors and having several urine and blood tests, I still had no answers. I imagined everything from mono to cancer, and I would lie in bed for hours each day praying to get better.
By April, my weight had dropped 10 pounds and the sores in my mouth had multiplied. One doctor referred me to an ear, nose, and throat (ENT) specialist who recognized my symptoms immediately and tested me for gluten allergies and celiac disease.When my test results came back positive for gluten allergies, my physician told me I had to eliminate all gluten from my diet.
Gluten is a protein commonly found in rye, wheat, barley and in most types of cereals, pastas, pizza crust and bread. Grains without gluten include wild rice, corn, buckwheat, millet, amaranth, quinoa, teff, oats, soybeans and sunflower seeds.
I completely changed my diet and became aware of every ingredient I consumed. After a few weeks on a gluten-free diet, my symptoms disappeared and I finally began to feel like my old self.
Gluten intolerances are becoming more common. About one in seven people in the United States are non-celiac gluten sensitive, which means they physically and mentally feel better being on a gluten-free diet.
Peter Nelson, MD, a gastroenterologist with CentraCare Digestive Center, helps patients who have trouble digesting gluten.
“Most people who have celiac disease go undiagnosed,” Nelson said. “But the ones who are diagnosed soon discover the disease is treatable.”
Non-celiac gluten-sensitive people will test negative on celiac blood tests, but still have mild to severe health problems caused by eating gluten. Some gluten-intolerant people will test positive for celiac disease.
“Celiac disease is being diagnosed more commonly because physicians are more aware of the illness and test for it more often,” Nelson said. “It is unclear why some people develop celiac disease, but there clearly is a genetic susceptibility. Our goal is to make the diagnosis.”