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The Importance of Seeing Your Doctor Before Starting a Gluten-Free Diet
Are you considering trying a gluten-free diet because you think it might be the cause of your gastrointestinal (GI) issues? If so, consider scheduling an appointment with your doctor first. Celiac disease is an autoimmune disorder in which the small intestine is damaged by gluten, a protein found in wheat, rye and barley. To accurately diagnose celiac disease (CD), a blood test and/or biopsy is performed. If you are following a gluten-free diet prior to getting tested, the results may be inaccurate.
The symptoms of CD and gluten sensitivity (GS) are highly variable but if you have the following 3 signs, it’s important to get tested before making dietary changes:
- Do you have chronic GI symptoms such as reflux, lactose intolerance, mouth ulcers, abdominal pain, bloating, gas and diarrhea?
- Do you have unexplained anemia? If left untreated, celiac disease can cause intestinal damage that can hinder your body’s ability to absorb certain vitamins and minerals.
- Do you have a family history? If you have a family member diagnosed with CD or GS, your risk of having one of these disorders is much higher.
CD affects approximately 1% of the population. Another 6% of the population may have GS. Symptoms of GS are similar to CD but intestinal damage is less severe. There are currently no specific tests for diagnosing GS. The only way to determine if you have GS is to rule out CD and a wheat allergy, then see if your symptoms improve on a gluten-free diet. A gluten challenge would then be done where you reintroduce gluten foods and see if your symptoms return.
If you are diagnosed with celiac disease or gluten sensitivity, meeting with a registered dietitian (RD) can also be beneficial. Anytime you are eliminating certain foods from your diet, the chance for nutritional deficiencies increases. An RD can help with meal planning and suggest alternative foods with similar nutrients to help prevent deficiencies. An RD can also help with finding hidden sources of gluten that may be in your diet.