Healthcare Providers Who Treat Celiac Disease or Gluten Sensitivity

Many types of healthcare providers are involved in diagnosing and treating celiac disease and non-celiac gluten sensitivity. The first step is to discuss your celiac disease symptoms and/or gluten sensitivity symptoms with your primary care provider. 

It's nearly impossible to tell the difference between the conditions based on symptoms alone, so your healthcare provider may order tests to determine if you have celiac disease, and can help you decide the next steps in your care.

Male patient and doctor in discussion in exam room
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Role of the Primary Care Healthcare Provider

If you think you might be reacting to gluten in your diet, you'll need tests to confirm the cause of your symptoms. The first step may be a set of celiac blood tests. Your primary care healthcare provider can order these tests.

You need to be eating gluten for the tests to be accurate, so don't change your diet just yet. 

If you have a positive result on these blood tests, it doesn't mean you definitely have celiac disease. Your practitioner likely will refer you to a gastroenterologist—a physician who specializes in conditions involving the digestive system.

Role of the Gastroenterologist

A gastroenterologist can perform an endoscopy, a procedure that's usually the next step in the diagnostic process for celiac disease. During an endoscopy, the gastroenterologist will use an instrument called an endoscope to take tiny samples of your small intestine.

Endoscopy involves the insertion of a flexible scope through the mouth and down the esophagus, stomach, and small intestine to obtain a biopsy (tissue sample). This is typically done on an outpatient basis.

The sample will then be sent to a pathology lab for evaluation.

Role of the Pathologist

As the final step to diagnose celiac disease, a healthcare provider called a pathologist—a physician who examines tissues—will review those samples of your small intestine.

The sample is examined to look for signs of:

  • Villous atrophy (a type of damage found in celiac disease involving the flattening of the finger-like lining of the intestines)
  • Increased inflammatory cells called lymphocytes in the epithelium (lining of the intestine) of the duodenum

If celiac disease is diagnosed, it will be classified in order to ensure that the correct treatment is delivered. The classification system commonly used is known as the Modified Marsh Classification of Histologic Findings in Celiac Disease, designed in 1992 by medical pathologist Dr. Michael Marsh.

Follow-Up Care

If you are diagnosed with celiac disease, your gastroenterologist or your primary care healthcare provider can provide follow-up care.

If you don't test positive for celiac disease based on your blood tests or endoscopy, you almost certainly don't have celiac disease. Other conditions potentially can have symptoms similar to those of celiac disease. Your gastroenterologist can help you sort out the cause of those symptoms.

Non-Celiac Gluten Sensitivity

Negative results on these tests don't necessarily mean you don't have a problem with gluten—you may have non-celiac gluten sensitivity instead.

Non-celiac gluten sensitivity means just what it sounds like: you don't have celiac disease (because the testing was negative), but you still react to gluten. This is evidenced by the fact that you feel better when you eat gluten-free, and you feel worse when you add gluten-containing foods back into your diet. The condition can be managed, and the management differs from the treatment of celiac disease.

Other Medical Specialists

Regardless of whether you have celiac disease or gluten sensitivity, you may need care from different medical specialists, depending on the associated symptoms you may have.

For example, you may need a neurologist to deal with recurrent migraine, a dermatologist to treat eczema or dermatitis herpetiformis, or an endocrinologist if you are struggling with infertility or diabetes.

These conditions are more common in people who have celiac disease or gluten sensitivity and may be better treated by a healthcare provider who specializes in those specific areas.

You may also need assistance from a dietitian who can help you embark on a gluten-free diet.

A Word From Verywell

When you have gastrointestinal symptoms, it's not unusual to work with several healthcare providers, especially as you're in the process of obtaining a diagnosis.

Once you're feeling better and you've mastered the gluten-free diet, you may only need to regularly visit one practitioner, who can manage your care. This medical professional may be your primary care healthcare provider or gastroenterologist and they will be able to make any referrals for follow-up care from specialists that you need in the future.

5 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. MedlinePlus. Celiac Disease Screening.

  2. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. Diagnosis of Celiac Disease.

  3. Celiac Disease Foundation. Diagnosis.

  4. Mansueto P, Seidita A, D’Alcamo A, Carroccio A. Non-Celiac Gluten Sensitivity: Literature ReviewJ Am Coll Nutr. 2014;33(1):39-54. doi:10.1080/07315724.2014.869996

  5. Sapone A, Bai JC, Ciacci C, et al. Spectrum of gluten-related disorders: consensus on new nomenclature and classificationBMC Med. 2012;10:13. doi:10.1186/1741-7015-10-13

Additional Reading
  • National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. How Do Doctors Treat Celiac Disease? fact sheet.

By Jane Anderson
Jane Anderson is a medical journalist and an expert in celiac disease, gluten sensitivity, and the gluten-free diet.