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What kind of doctor treats celiac disease or gluten sensitivity?

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Updated October 24, 2012

Written or reviewed by a board-certified physician. See About.com's Medical Review Board.

What kind of doctor treats celiac disease or gluten sensitivity? Getty Images/Siri Stafford
Question: What kind of doctor treats celiac disease or gluten sensitivity?
Answer:

Different types of doctors potentially may play a variety of different roles in diagnosing and treating you for celiac disease or for gluten sensitivity. But you'll likely want to start out by discussing your symptoms with your primary care physician:

You should begin by determining whether or not you have celiac disease, and the first diagnostic step is a set of celiac blood tests. Your primary care doctor can order these tests, and you need to be eating gluten for the tests to be accurate. (For more on that, see: Why do I need to eat gluten for celiac disease testing?)

If you have a positive result on these blood tests, it doesn't mean you definitely have celiac disease. However, it does mean your doctor likely will refer you to a gastroenterologist — a type of doctor who specializes in conditions involving the digestive system.

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

As the final step to diagnose celiac disease, a doctor called a pathologist — a type of physician who examines tissues — will review those samples of your small intestine to look for signs of villous atrophy, or the type of intestinal damage found in celiac disease.

If you ultimately are diagnosed with celiac disease, either your gastroenterologist or your primary care doctor (or possibly both) can provide follow-up care.

Of course, other conditions potentially can have symptoms similar to those of celiac disease. Your gastroenterologist can help you sort out the cause of those symptoms regardless of whether she ultimately diagnoses you with celiac — even if your blood tests come back negative.

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Gluten Sensitivity Treated by Primary Care Physician or Gastroenterologist

If you don't test positive for celiac disease on either the blood tests or the endoscopy, you almost certainly don't have celiac disease. However, negative results on these tests don't necessarily mean you don't have a problem with gluten — you may suffer from non-celiac gluten sensitivity. This can be treated either by your primary care physician or by a gastroenterologist.

Unfortunately, right now there are no tests universally accepted to determine if someone has gluten sensitivity, although there are a few options you might want to discuss with your doctor (for more on this, see: Gluten Sensitivity Tests). In most cases, people determine they have gluten sensitivity by cutting out gluten and then reintroducing it while watching for a reaction.

If you and your physician determine you have gluten sensitivity, you'll likely stick with that doctor for follow-up care. She can make any referrals to additional specialists that may be needed.

Other Medical Specialties Potentially Treating Gluten Issues

Regardless of whether you have celiac disease or gluten sensitivity, you may wind up needing care from different types of medical specialists.

For example, you may need to check out symptoms such as migraine (potentially investigated by a neurologist), eczema or dermatitis herpetiformis (usually treated by a dermatologist) or infertility or diabetes (generally treated by an endocrinologist).

These conditions seem to be common in people with celiac disease or gluten sensitivity, and may be better treated by a physician who specializes in those specific areas.

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