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Do swollen tongue and throat indicate gluten intolerance?

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General & Family Physician
Practicing since : 1991
Answered : 2652 Questions
think I have gluten intolerance?
Posted Tue, 21 Nov 2017 in Digestion and Bowels
Answered by Dr. Bonnie Berger-Durnbaugh 1 hour later
Brief Answer:

Detailed Answer:
Hello and welcome,

There are a few issues that may be going on here:

Swelling of the tongue and throat are not typical early symptoms for gluten intolerance. They are more characteristic of an allergic reaction to food, medication, or insect stings. It is a significant reaction and she should be going in to be seen by a doctor. In the meantime, consider taking an antihistamine such as Zyrtec, but do not delay going in to be seen. Usually we recommend going in to the ER when tongue or throat swelling happen.

While gluten intolerance can cause inflammatory problems in places other than the gastrointestinal tract, it's main site of disturbance is the small intestine and results in bloating, gas, and sometimes diarrhea. Overtime, the villi of the small intestines flatten out and there is less absorption. There are ways to diagnose gluten (wheat, rye, barley) intolerance - either with a blood test for Celiac disease, which is a place to start, or a small bowel biopsy. To see if eliminating wheat, rye, and barley will work, then elimination needs to occur for several weeks, as it will take awhile for the intestines to heal. But again, swelling of tongue and throat are more indicative of an allergy (which can include wheat if that is what she reacts to) rather than a gluten sensitivity.

The cheesecake episode could be from the dairy, if she has lactose or casein intolerance, as there is a lot of dairy in cheese cake compared with the amount of wheat. (Unless she is that sensitive to wheat, which is possible.)

I hope this information gives your friend a place to start and I would be happy to answer any further questions.
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