When you are diagnosed with celiac disease, you typically do everything in your power to not eat gluten. Unfortunately, sometimes this is inevitable and will happen at some point in your life, especially if you eat out.
Celiac disease is an autoimmune condition where the immune system attacks the tissues in the small intestine in response to gluten. One crumb is sometimes all it takes to flare and cause symptoms in an individual who is celiac. However, how every individual person reacts to gluten when they have celiac disease differs in severity. Some may not feel any symptoms at all, others may get all of the symptoms associated with the disease and others it depends on how much they have consumed.
In my experience with the disease, it seems to be changing as time goes by and my gut continues to heal. When I was first diagnosed, a year later I was given 2 slices of gluten bread and I had awful symptoms that lasted about 8 months. However, now 5 years into my diagnosis, a week ago I was glutened again at a restaurant but this time I had stabbing sharp pains in my gut immediately after eating along with instant bloating. The pain lasted for about 3 hours and I was fatigued with my stomach feeling a bit off and bloated for about 3-7 days after and I seem to be back to my regular self again. Was it less gluten than before? Is it because my stomach has healed more that it did not hit me as hard or last as long? Only time and experience will tell me for sure as every individual reacts differently. However, listed below are some symptoms to look out for if you have eaten out or eaten something new and seem to be having a reaction.
How do I know if I have eaten gluten?
As mentioned above, depending on your severity and how long you are into your healing journey, what you will feel when you have been glutened will vary.
For myself, when I ate the two slices of bread a year after diagnosis at a restaurant, it was within 30-40 min after eating there I started getting symptoms. I felt like I was going to be sick, the typical signs and symptoms you get just before you’re going to throw up. I did throw up and immediately after I had sharp pains in my gut which feel as if I just swallowed a bunch of razor blades. That pain happened on and off, along with distended bloating. The pain was on and off for about a week, and the bloating lasted for about 2-3 months. However, the mental and physical symptoms I got (most of which are listed below) lasted for about 8 months. This exposure shot my TTG blood levels (anti-body blood test for celiac) back up to greater than 300. For those of you who do not know, this is very high and a good indication that I definitely ate a lot of gluten that day.
However, recently I believe I had just a smaller exposure at a restaurant and I had the sharp pains instantly after eating, this was my first sign. They progressively became worse as the night went and lasted for about 3 hours if I had to guess. I bloated instantly and was left feeling very fatigued that night. The next few days I had a few sharp pains when I ate anything but not like the night before, more just a reminder to take it easy on the food that day. My appetite was lower and my stomach felt sore and inflamed for about 3 days, but the bloating lasted for about 5-7 days along with some digestion upset. I did not have as much brain fog or mental health issues pop up, but I did have a few skin conditions pop up minorly. I had a very red sore pop up on my chin and small red bumps on my arms. But no dermatits herpetiformis on my hands like I usually get. Now, 2 weeks after, I’m seeing that it may have had an effect on my digestion just a bit longer than a week and it has thrown off my menstrual cycle as well. However, all of my symptoms did not last as long as the last time which is really encouraging. I was also told by my dietician that a once in a while exposure to gluten does not reverse all of the healing you have done in your gut, that will only happen when you have multiple exposures in a row (as if you are eating it on a regular basis).
Depending on how you individually react to gluten, one or more of the symptoms below can occur. Remember that everyone reacts differently, and it also depends where you are in your healing journey to know how you will react to gluten. It seems like the more your gut heals over time, the quicker you will heal when you are exposed to gluten. Hurray for our superhuman healing powers!
What are the symptoms of gluten exposure?
Listed below are just a few of the symptoms one can experience when they have celiac disease and have eaten gluten. Keep in mind that there are more than 300 known symptoms of celiac disease. So this is the short of the long list of them all.
- Brain Fog
- Bloating or Gas
- Sharp Abdomen Pain
- Delayed Growth in Children
- Discoloured Teeth
- Headaches or Migraines
- Irregular periods
- Itchy Skin Rash (Dermatitis Herpetiformis)
- Joint Pain
- Mouth Sores
- Poor weight gain or loss
- Thin bones
- Neropathy suchs as tingling and numbness into the arms and legs
- And so much more
What do I do if I think I have been glutened?
- Don’t Panic: First step is to not panic. The more you stress, the more your gut will become affected through the gut-brain axis. I’ve learned to sit with my symptoms for a bit and see what pops up, because it could be gluten, but it could also very well be something else.
- Wait it out: Continuing my point from above, it might be something else causing your symptoms. I’ve learned over the last 6 months working with a dietician that there are a wide range of reasons why you may be experiencing symptoms. Try to not think that it is always gluten that is out to get you, believe me, I know this is a hard mindset to get to. However, if your symptoms do become worse over time or more start to pop up, then I would either make an appointment with you doctor to see if they feel you need to be tested for gluten exposure, or ride it out and try the tips listed below.
- Listen to your body: Our bodies have an amazing way of letting us know what we need. If you feel you need to eat more plain food after a glutening, then go for it. Eat foods that are easier to digest to help your body out when it is already working hard. However, if you feel you need more food than you can do that too.
- Hydrate: Keeping yourself hydrated will help to flush out the gluten but also to help keep your systems running efficiently. Your body is already working hard to get everything back to equilibrium, give it a little help in return. For the first few days after the last glutening I had I was drinking elecrolytes once a day and about 10-12 cups of water a day along with some bone broth as well for the vitamins, minerals and collagen to further help my body out. But if you don’t have the others, plain old H2O is a fantastic help.
- Rest: This is probably one of the most important steps when you’ve been glutened. Your body is going through a lot when this happens, a full autoimmune reaction can occur which means all of your systems in your body is working in over drive. Help your body out and don’t put any unneccessary stress on it until you start to recover and feel better. You’ll most likely recover faster if you listen to your body and give it what it needs. Grab a book, relax with a nice tea and a blanket and relax.
Don’t be hard on yourself, things happen and unfortunately, it’s almost inevitable to happen when you’re not eating in your own kitchen as a celiac. Take it easy and try the tips above for hopefully what will be a faster recovery. That way you can get back to doing what you love and enjoy in life.
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