We earn a commission from brands listed on this site. This influences the order and manner in which these listings are presented.
Advertising Disclosure

10 Most Common Signs of Gluten Intolerance in Adults

Head and shoulders photograph of Anju Mobin
A young woman sitting on her couch while holding her stomach  in discomfort
Feeling bloated and tired with a lingering headache? Let's go through your symptoms to understand if you're gluten.

A seemingly harmless protein found in wheat, barley, and rye could be the hidden cause of discomfort for many people. An individual with gluten sensitivity most likely experiences uncomfortable symptoms after eating cereals, bread, pasta, sauces, and chocolates. Indicators of gluten intolerance can vary widely among individuals, and some may experience non-digestive symptoms.

A gluten-free diet is a food and lifestyle adjustment. Different gluten-free options provided by various meal delivery services like Daily Harvest, or any of it's tasty alternatives, are ideal if you want to remove gluten from your daily intake. I’m a certified nutritionist, and I’ll walk you through the types of gluten intolerance and the ten most common indicators.

» Looking for tasty gluten-free meals? Try these ten delicious recipes by Home Chef.

Celiac Disease vs. NCGS vs. Wheat Allergy

There are three types of gluten intolerance:

  1. Celiac or coeliac disease: An auto-immune disease and the most severe form of gluten intolerance
  2. Non-celiac gluten sensitivity (NCGS): Intolerance exhibited in people without celiac disease
  3. Wheat allergy: An allergic reaction caused by eating wheat products, foods containing wheat proteins, or inhaling wheat flour

Symptoms can overlap between these conditions, making distinguishing them challenging without a medical test. These overlapping indicators may differ in severity. For example, Celiac Disease can cause significant intestinal damage, while NCGS might not cause long-term harm but can be uncomfortable.

10 Signs and Potential Causes of Gluten Intolerance

Celiac Disease
Non-Celiac Gluten Sensitivity
Wheat Allergy
Abdominal Pain
Diarrhea or Constipation
Mood Disorders
Muscle and Joint Pain
Brain Fog
Skin Problems

1. Bloating

Bloating occurs when an individual experiences a tight and full feeling in the abdomen due to gas. It's a widespread symptom of intolerance, but it's important to note that bloating is caused by various digestive issues, not just gluten.

Therefore, distinguishing it specifically as a sign of gluten intolerance requires considering other related symptoms and dietary habits. Wheat, rye, and barley are high in gluten; regular consumption can increase your body's gluten sensitivity over time.

It may also create digestive issues like gas and flatulence, abdominal pain, acid reflux, and heartburn. The typical severity and duration of bloating can vary. However, it can present as a consistent discomfort after eating gluten-free foods.

If you notice ongoing or severe swelling, it's wise to seek medical advice. This is essential to rule out more extreme conditions and receive appropriate dietary management guidance.

Woman in pain on the phone with hand placed on abdomen

Hello Fresh offers many gluten free options for breakfast, lunch, or dinner, like Roast Cauliflower Biryani, Garlicky Chicken & Caesar-Style Salad, and more. Visit Site

2. Abdominal Pain

If you experience frequent stomach pain, especially after eating gluten-free food products, you should get checked for intolerance, celiac disease, or a wheat allergy. This pain often manifests as a sharp or cramping sensation in the lower or mid-abdomen.

Research shows that wheat or foods containing gluten can trigger inflammation and pain in patients with celiac disease. The pain usually occurs within a few hours after consuming gluten and varies in severity. It’s important to note that the intensity of pain does not always correlate with the level of gluten intolerance or the extent of damage in celiac disease.

 Gluten-intolerant adults often display abdominal pain. If your pain is severe, persistent, or accompanied by other symptoms, such as blood in the stool, you should seek medical help promptly. This could be indicative of a more serious condition requiring further attention.

3. Diarrhea or Constipation

Constipation or runny stools can point to gluten sensitivity, specifically celiac disease. Rather than occasional occurrences, chronic looseness of the bowels or consistent constipation might indicate a problem.

When your body does not digest gluten-based foods well, the result is diarrhea with pale and foul-smelling feces, sometimes followed by rapid weight loss. This type of runny tummy, especially in celiac disease, often shows signs of malabsorption, such as greasy, floating stools that are unusually smelly.

 Constipation occurs in many individuals. However, frequent constipation without any underlying cause may signify non-celiac gluten intolerance. Ongoing constipation can lead to nutritional deficiencies as nutrients are not adequately absorbed. In a gluten-free diet, sufficient hydration and dietary fiber are crucial to manage this symptom.

Yet achieving this can be challenging if not carefully managed. One resolution could be to try gluten-free meal kits carefully created by delivery services like HelloFresh. Many individuals notice a significant improvement in symptoms when they remove gluten from their food options.

Go for a medical evaluation to rule out other causes of chronic diarrhea or constipation, as these signs can be common to various gastrointestinal disorders. Get medical attention if there is blood in your stool or acute pain or if symptoms persist and do not respond to dietary changes.

4. Headaches

Headaches are a common symptom of fever, colds, and eye strain. But, you may experience frequent migraine attacks without any other medical conditions. In this case, a doctor may suspect gluten intolerance. If that is the case, these head pains can often be more persistent and severe compared to those caused by other factors.

They may last longer and be accompanied by nausea or sensitivity to light, distinguishing them from typical tension headaches. It's important to consider other aspects of your lifestyle that may contribute to frequent migraines. Factors such as stress, dehydration, or lack of sleep can also trigger head pain.

Scientific studies show that headaches may be caused by gluten intolerance, specifically celiac disease. Therefore, while considering gluten intolerance, address other areas of your lifestyle to help manage your migraines.

5. Fatigue

Fatigue is a common symptom of autoimmune disorders. Since celiac disease is an autoimmune disorder, individuals diagnosed with it may experience regular tiredness. This exhaustion is often more persistent and severe compared to general weariness.

Unlike normal tiredness that can be fixed with rest, gluten-related fatigue can linger and significantly impact daily functioning. Iron deficiency anemia is another condition that occurs due to celiac disease. The production of red blood cells in the body lowers, leaving you tired.

Moreover, celiac disease often leads to malabsorption of vitamin B12, folate, and other essential nutrients vital for producing energy. These deficiencies can contribute to the severity of fatigue experienced. You can eat foods like spinach, shellfish, pumpkin seeds, and red meat to increase your iron levels and help improve your energy levels.

Individuals with non-celiac gluten sensitivity also include exhaustion as a common symptom. One study found that out of 486 people suspected of non-celiac gluten sensitivity, 64% reported that they experienced tiredness.

» Need a speedy nibble? Whip up these ten quick gluten-free snacks.

Yawning man wearing an earpiece with his hands covering his mouth

6. Mood Disorders

You may experience mood disorders or extreme anxiety from gluten sensitivity. People who are gluten intolerant can have brain inflammation that manifests as increased anxiety. Anxiety can lead to depression and bring about intense worry or agitation. This impact of gluten on the brain can lead to mood imbalances like depression and irritability.

The link between celiac disease and mental health issues is complex and not fully understood. However, mood disorders are more prevalent in those with gluten sensitivity or celiac disease. Studies have shown that people who are gluten intolerant may experience anxiety and depression.

Deficiencies in essential nutrients like omega-3 fatty acids and B vitamins can also influence mood imbalances. Suitable diets provided by meal kit services like Nutrisystem can help relieve some symptoms.

Also, consider psychological support alongside dietary changes to help manage your mood. This condition can significantly impact your quality of life.

» What's for supper tonight? Taste these yummy gluten-free dinner ideas.

7. Muscle and Joint Pain

When gluten is consumed, it can lead to an inflammatory reaction in the body, resulting in muscle and joint pain. These aches can be localized in certain areas or widespread. They may be constant or intermittent, depending on your response.

It's essential to differentiate gluten-induced joint and muscle pain from other causes, such as arthritis or other autoimmune disorders. While these conditions can show similar symptoms, the underlying causes are distinct.

Studies confirm that gluten intolerance can trigger fibromyalgia, a condition that causes intense pain throughout muscles and their associated joints.

Home Chef Home Chef Visit Site

8. Brain Fog

Mental fog is a condition where you're unable to think clearly. You may experience forgetfulness, fatigue, confusion, a clouded mind, or difficulty concentrating. If you encounter these symptoms, you should check with a medical professional to rule out gluten sensitivity.

Various conditions can cause brain fog. Potential causes include sleep disorders, stress, or nutritional deficiencies. It's important to rule these out when diagnosing the cause of your clouded mind. The link between your gastrointestinal health and cognitive function is known as the gut-brain axis.

It suggests that issues caused by gluten intolerance can impact the mind. This connection shows how an abnormal absorption of gluten through an alteration in the small intestinal barrier can affect the central nervous system. It's worth noting that celiac disease can also cause brain fog.

9. Skin Conditions

Gluten sensitivity can create skin problems ranging from mild to severe in people with celiac disease. Conditions include psoriasis, alopecia areata, and dermatitis herpetiformis. Dermatitis herpetiformis, in particular, is directly linked to celiac disease and is characterized by itchy or burning blisters and rashes. They appear most commonly on your elbows, knees, and buttocks. The rash often has a symmetrical pattern.

Skin problems are not exclusive to celiac disease. Individuals with NCGS can also experience irritations. These may manifest as rashes, eczema, and dryness.

Skin reactions in gluten intolerance involve the immune system's response to gluten, which can trigger inflammation in the skin. Furthermore, nutrient deficiencies due to impaired absorption can also affect epidermal health, exacerbating or starting issues.

»Looking to go gluten free and organic? See what Green Chef has to offer

a woman looking at her face in front of a mirror

10. Infertility

Reproductive changes are becoming increasingly prevalent in people with gluten intolerance. Gluten can sometimes be the culprit in unexplained infertility, especially for anyone with celiac disease. The range of associated gluten intolerance reproductive issues includes menstrual irregularities, recurrent miscarriages, and delayed puberty.

The possible reason for infertility is poor nutrient absorption, specifically of zinc, iron, folate, and selenium. For instance, zinc affects the production of healthy sperm and eggs, and Iron transports oxygen to the reproductive organs.

This condition is not exclusive to women; gluten intolerance can also affect male fertility, impacting sperm quality and quantity. Consult with fertility specialists and possibly a gastroenterologist for a comprehensive approach to managing your infertility related to gluten intolerance.

Coping With Gluten Sensitivity

The best way to manage your intolerance is to understand the symptoms and take steps to prevent them. Educate yourself on food nutrition and hidden sources of gluten and read product labels to identify ingredients and contact online communities for advice.

Know what to eat to make it easier, whether you prefer to prepare food at home or dine out. Gluten-free meal delivery services like Sunbasket or Home Chef are safe options if you enjoy the convenience of ordering meals that can cater to your nutritional needs.

Along with the proper medical intervention, food choices, and dietary adherence, you can help effectively cope with your gluten intolerance.

» Start your gluten-free diet in ten easy steps.

    Head and shoulders photograph of Anju Mobin
    Anju Mobin is a certified nutritionist, Diet and Fitness Consultant at numerous medical clinics, founder and editor of fitnesshacks.org, and a writer for Top10.com. Anju strives to simplify complex information about nutrition, health, and fitness for the general public.

    *The information on this site is based on research, but should not be treated as medical advice. Before beginning any new diet plan, we recommend consulting with a physician or other professional healthcare provider. Results may vary based on various health factors, individual weight loss plans and adherence to the meal plan.