GREENVILLE, S.C. (WSPA)– The “gluten-free” diet has exploded in recent years. You can now even find aisles in grocery stores dedicated to it.

In this week’s “Ask The Expert”, in partnership with Bon Secours St. Francis, we explore celiac disease that is leaving some with no choice but to go “gluten-free”.

Celiac disease is a chronic digestive and immune disorder that damages the small intestine. It’s triggered by eating foods containing gluten. However, it’s not the same thing as gluten intolerance.

“Celiac disease is an autoimmune disorder, meaning gluten creates an immune reaction that destroys the cells of the small bowel.”

Dr. Rhody Fawaz, Gastroenterologist at Bon Secours St. Francis

Dr. Rhody Fawaz, a gastroenterologist, says having a gluten intolerance would not destroy the small intestine, but a lot of the other symptoms are actually very similar to celiac disease.

He says, “Patients can have bloating, diarrhea… and some of the serious problems that can occur with gluten is like severe fatigue, weight loss, anemia, you know, mineral density or bone density deficiency, like osteoporosis”.

You may be wondering– What foods contain gluten?

“Gluten is a protein one of the main protein in wheat, barley, and rye.”

Dr. Rhody Fawaz, Gastroenterologist at Bon Secours St. Francis

If you have celiac disease– you will need to avoid gluten completely. Right now, it’s the only treatment for it.

“It’s very important when we get diagnosed with celiac disease to completely be off gluten,” said Dr. Fawaz.

While so many menus and stores have gluten-free options these days, meal time can still take extra planning.

“Eating out is usually problematic for patients with celiac disease because wheat is in everything that the restaurant…so they have to make sure that they’re eating food prepared with no gluten,” said Dr. Fawaz.

Before jumping to self-diagnose yourself, doctors say to make an appointment to make sure it’s not just gluten sensitivity.

“Celiac disease has to be diagnosed in two ways by serology, meaning blood testing, or by small bowel biopsy,” said Dr. Fawaz.

Dr. Fawaz says genetics play a big role in determining if someone will develop celiac disease.

Researchers are currently studying if a higher number of infections, in early life, and certain digestive tract infections may also increase the risk.

To submit a health topic for our ‘Ask the Expert’ series, click here.