Non-Celiac Gluten Sensitivity: A Challenging Diagnosis in Children with Abdominal Pain

Ann Nutr Metab. 2018;73 Suppl 4:39-46. doi: 10.1159/000493929. Epub 2019 Feb 19.


Several disorders related to the ingestion of gluten are well recognized despite overlapping clinical presentations: celiac disease, an autoimmune enteropathy triggered by gluten ingestions in susceptible individuals, allergy to wheat, and more recently non-celiac gluten sensitivity (NCGS). While celiac disease and wheat allergy are well-known disorders with a clear-cut diagnosis based on clinical tests and biological parameters, NCGS is a more difficult diagnosis, especially in children with functional gastrointestinal (GI) complaints. NCGS is considered a syndrome of intestinal but also extraintestinal symptoms occurring within hours, but sometimes even after several days of gluten ingestion. In children, the leading symptoms of NCGS are abdominal pain and diarrhea, while extraintestinal symptoms are rare, in contrast to adult patients. No precise diagnostic test nor specific biomarkers exist, except a rather cumbersome three-phase gluten-exposure, gluten-free diet, followed by a blinded placebo-controlled gluten challenge with crossover to provoke symptoms elicited by gluten in a reproducible manner that disappear on gluten-free alimentation. Recent data indicate that the peptide part of wheat proteins is not necessarily the sole trigger of clinical symptoms. Mono- or oligosaccharides, such as fructan and other constituents of wheat, were able to provoke GI symptoms in clinical trials. These new findings indicate that the term gluten sensitivity is probably too restrictive. The incidence of NCGS was reported in the range of 1-10% in the general population and to increase steadily; however, most data are based on patients' self-reported gluten intolerance or avoidance without a medically confirmed diagnosis. Treatment consists of gluten avoidance for at least several weeks or months. Patients with NCGS require regular reassessment for gluten tolerance allowing with time the reintroduction of increasing amounts of gluten.

Keywords: FODMAPs; Gluten; Gluten sensitivity; Irritable bowel syndrome; Pediatrics.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Abdominal Pain / etiology*
  • Celiac Disease
  • Child
  • Food Intolerance / complications
  • Food Intolerance / diagnosis*
  • Food Intolerance / therapy
  • Glutens / adverse effects*
  • Humans
  • Malabsorption Syndromes / complications
  • Malabsorption Syndromes / diagnosis*
  • Malabsorption Syndromes / therapy
  • Triticum


  • Glutens