Celiac Disease and Irritable Bowel Syndrome | Allergy

Celiac Disease and Irritable Bowel Syndrome

by Allergy Guy

Irritable bowel syndrome often has celiac disease as the root cause.  The cure is simple in this case. Too bad many doctors don’t realize this.

In this article, we will look at what irritable bowel syndrome is, how it is sometimes connected to celiac disease, and how a gluten free diet may help.

Irritable Bowel Syndrome

Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS, or spastic colon) is a ‘functional bowel disorder’, meaning “we can describe the disease but we don’t know what’s causing it.”

Of course something causes it, but built right into the definition is the idea that there is no known cause, so it isn’t to surprising that when there might be a known cause, it is often overlooked.  More about that later.

Typical symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome are:

  • Chronic abdominal pain and discomfort
  • Bloating
  • Frequent diarrhea or constipation
  • urgency for bowel movements
  • Feeling of incomplete evacuation (tenesmus)

People with this problem are more likely to experience reflux, depression, anxiety, fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue syndrome, $headache$ and backache.

This isn’t too surprising given that it could be celiac disease which shares the above symptoms, and that the gut is a major part of the immune system.  When the immune system is upset, fatigue, headaches are common.

Irritable Bowel Syndrome can really be …

If irritable bowel syndrome is a certain collection of unexplained symptoms, let’s see what else it could be. 

Here are some things that might explain IBS:

  • Mild infections
  • Parasitic infections like giardiasis
  • Various inflammatory bowel diseases
  • Celiac disease

The last item on the list, celiac disease, is of particular interest here.

Celiac Disease

Celiac disease is the real reason behind many cases of irritable bowel syndrome.

This does not mean that all cases of IBS are celiac disease.  Some studies suggest that over 22% of those suffering from IBS have gluten sensitivity, and around 4½% of those with IBS have celiac disease (this may vary, depending on your definition of celiac disease).

Gluten Free Diet and Irritable Bowel Syndrome

With so many irritable bowel syndrome sufferers having a gluten sensitivity, it makes sense to try a gluten free diet as a matter of course for anyone suffering with IBS.

I don’t think it makes sense to rely on a test to decide if you should try a gluten free diet to deal with your IBS.  Many tests are inaccurate, and besides, celiac disease is only part of the picture.

Gluten sensitivity, which accounts for over a fifth of IBS cases, according to some studies, includes celiac disease, as well as gluten allergy, and any other label you’d like to sub-divide gluten sensitivity into.

The exact mechanics may be interesting for researchers, and a further understanding may eventually help the rest of us, but for now, I advise you to try a gluten free diet if you have irritable bowel syndrome and see if that improves things.

My above comments about tests not withstanding, I do suggest you get tested for celiac disease as well, and here’s why: if you have celiac disease, then you must avoid all traces of gluten, due to the long-term health implications of celiac.  These implications go well beyond your gut, as other articles on this website discuss.

A gluten free diet may not improve your irritable bowel syndrome, but there is a good chance that it might, so give it a try.

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{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

1 laren barteaux May 27, 2011 at 12:58

i have been diagnosed with celiac after a colonoscopy and had a nutritionist put me on a gluten/wheat free diet..however, i had severe diaharra for about 25 years prior, always diagnosed with irritable bowel..i try very hard to avoid all i am sensitive to, but have horrible episodes of diahrrea(cant make to bathroom)..i am depressed and tired and feel i can never go out again….can you have irritable bowel with celiac disease? if so, i give up!! can you help?

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2 Allergy Guy May 27, 2011 at 13:12

It may be that you were misdiagnoses with irritable bowl when in fact it was celiac disease. It would be worth talking to your internist about this.

Mean while, focus on the gluten-free diet. You may want to be cautious with what you eat until your gut heals, meaning follow your irritable bowl diet as far as is possible for a while. This is very different from “for ever!”

Having said that, do focus on what you can eat. You may need to hold off on going out until your gut heals, but that is not the same as never!

Depression is a common symptom of aggravated celiac disease. It will pass after some time, as long as you are strict about your gluten free diet. This feels hard at first, but it gets easier, believe me!

Check out the post Gluten Allergy – Getting Used to New Food for a growing list of foods you can eat. There is plenty on this website and others about what you must avoid, which is important, but you also need to know what you’re aiming for.

You’re on the right track, hang in there, it gets a whole lot easier as you start to heal!

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3 Guest: anonymous March 28, 2010 at 21:10

allergies/irritable bowel symptoms

I am new to this site, but so far have found it very interesting. Although I don’t know exactly what I’m dealing with yet, you have given me some hope- which may lead to answers. When I was about 12 yrs old I developed allergies to poultry and metals (I had my ears pierced shortly before this time). Every spring I had a “cold”, but later learned it was a reaction to mold/pollens. These allergies were generally “no biggy” if I avoided eating poultry so as not to get a flue- like reaction. My stomach would ache terribly for hours after accidently having something with “hidden” chicken broth or meat in it! (eg: chille verde sauce, restaurant soups, etc.) I coped…but then….
At approximately 35 years of age, my spouse, children, and I relocated to Missouri. ( I should also explain that I’ve always been a diet conscious and LEAN!!, active person right up to this time- even after having children!!) I was about to discover that being sensative to EATING poultry was only the beginning of my upcoming nightmare.
Soon I found that the fodder piles in that humid Ozark climate were smelly AND full of mold too. The piles were EVERYWHERE!!! because of the commercial chicken industries. When we drove by them on a day where the atmospheric conditions made things just “hang in ” – like being in city smog, I felt my whole body swell up, esp my abdomen, but even the face and other parts of the body like my thighs and hands. Sometimes it was bad enough where my breathing felt tight, hyper heartbeat, throat swelled, fingernails turned blackish purple and I felt like I was going to pass out.

Soon I developed chronic hives on my face and chest and my menstruatal cycles quit for about 6 months at a time.(never happened before). I had chronic constipation, bloating, horrible “gas”, and the itchy skin continued. The bloating caused me to sit up nights with extreme stomach discomfort, and largely because I was scared of the unknown and being tired of the constant dull pain,.. anxiety problems. Stress now made me bloat even worse.
Four years too late, we moved away.
My periods immediately began returning to normal. My stomach bloating seemed to let up some, but since we relocated to a snowy (mold, oops!!) climate and I took on a stressful job environment, I continued to suffer off and on with the same symptoms that I first did in Missouri. The bright spot was that I lost about 3 pants sizes because the periods were regular and swelling was far less intense now; but the itchy face and chest continues to plague me, esp with added stress. Can anybody relate to this? I’ve been eating alot of raw organic spinach w/ fruit and yougurt smoothies and flax seed- and when I can, I try to eat sprouted whole grains. I see some improvement, as long as my stress doesn’t take over. What really makes me upset,… I never had these swelling and bloating problems before Missouri and the poultry environmental issues. Now I seem to have chronic aching in my knees as well. What’s up with that?!? Has anyone else suffered problems like these? Please leave a blog for me to read on this site, if you have something that could help not only me, but others with similar situations. I appologise that I no longer give out my email address due to large volumes of spam and scammers trying to make money off of peoples’ problems. Thank you for your time.

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