What Does It Feel Like When You Get Glutened?

In some, it's like a full-body flu that lasts for days

If you've recently been diagnosed with celiac disease or non-celiac gluten sensitivity, you might be wondering what it feels like to accidentally ingest gluten—in other words, to "get glutened." Here's what you need to know.

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Symptoms May Surprise You

If you were experiencing a particular symptom before you were diagnosed – like, say, diarrhea – you might develop the opposite – constipation – when you eat gluten. And there's evidence that some people suffer from reflux during a glutening, even if they didn't have that symptom before the diagnosis.

Common Symptoms

Beyond diarrhea, constipation, and reflux, it's normal to experience brain fog when you've been glutened, and many people report recurrent bouts of gluten-caused depression that seem to clear up as soon as other symptoms clear up. Gluten-induced fatigue is another problem that's frequently mentioned.

Although it's not common, vomiting can occur, especially if you've ingested a large amount of gluten (think: a slice of pizza or a doughnut, as opposed to a few crumbs). But remember, you can experience symptoms even from a very, very small amount of gluten.

Symptoms Can Vary

Just because your friend experiences one symptom when he or she eats gluten doesn't mean that it's the same symptom that you'll experience. Every person has a different reaction. 

Look for a Pattern 

Whatever you experience, your symptoms often will follow a predictable pattern—a pattern that may clue you in that you've eaten something, well, problematic.

Personally, I almost always can tell if I'm starting a major glutening. I get unnaturally thirsty within a half-hour of exposure and my lips feel dry, and within another few minutes, I start experiencing bad reflux.

Fatigue hits within a couple of hours and I have trouble staying awake for the next several hours, but then that night, I suffer from insomnia. If I can sleep at all, I have nightmares.

The next day, I usually have cramps and diarrhea, plus major fatigue and brain fog. I also experience blurry vision and can have some trouble focusing my eyes.

By the third day, I usually feel better (unless the gluten exposure triggered a migraine), but I tend to suffer from constipation and joint pain for another day or two as my system recovers from the gluten exposure.

I used to get dermatitis herpetiformis almost exactly 22 hours after I'd been glutened (very helpful in pinpointing what got me). However, these days I'm healed enough that my itchy rash doesn't appear until about two days later, and sometimes it's only a minor itch and a few bumps.

Major Glutening vs. Minor Glutening

During a major glutening, you're likely to get lots of symptoms, whereas, if it's only a minor glutening, you may only get one or a few symptoms. However, the symptoms that do appear generally come in the usual order.

Still, all in all, a glutening – major or minor – is an extremely unpleasant experience. When people ask me to describe my reaction to gluten, I characterize it as a "full-body flu" that lasts for days. 

But the good news is that these symptoms are only temporary, and with dietary adjustments, it's possible to avoid gluten and still enjoy a varied diet full of delicious and nutritious foods. 

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  1. Pennisi M, Bramanti A, Cantone M, Pennisi G, Bella R, Lanza G. Neurophysiology of the "Celiac Brain": Disentangling gut-brain connectionsFront Neurosci. 2017;11:498. doi:10.3389/fnins.2017.00498

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