An autoimmune disease of the gut may be more common than previously thought, and screening the blood for antibodies may help detect the disease, a new study shows.
Celiac disease, which is triggered when genetically predisposed people consume proteins found in wheat, barley, oats and rye, may affect as many as one in 99 children, according to a study last week in The New England Journal of Medicine.
Children with the most severe form of the disease have trouble absorbing nutrients and may lose weight and become anemic. But recently, researchers have discovered that there are more mild forms of the disease that come with a variety of symptoms that are not gut related.
We've learned that celiac disease is more common than was previously thought, say experts. Adults may have many years of silent damage to the intestines and to other organs. Undiagnosed celiac disease has been linked to a plethora of illnesses, including osteoporosis, chronic fatigue, anemia, miscarriages and behavioral changes.
And because the symptoms of the disease are diverse, it can be difficult to diagnose. A recent study showed that it took as many as 12 to 13 years after onset of symptoms for patients in the United States to receive a diagnosis of celiac disease.
The cure for celiac disease is a diet that contains no gluten, the protein that triggers the reaction.
For the new study, Finnish researchers examined blood samples from 3,654 students aged 7 to 16. The samples had been collected in 1994 as part of an earlier study that looked at diabetes risk.
The researchers found that 56 of the children had positive tests for the disease. But, as of 2001, only 10 of these children had been diagnosed with celiac disease. They next asked if the study subjects would agree to a biopsy of the intestines to check against the results of the blood test. Out of 36 patients who agreed to the biopsy, 27 had signs of celiac disease on the biopsy.
While a blood test would turn up the majority of celiac cases, some experts believe that people should only be tested if they have disease-associated symptoms. That's because staying on the diet can be challenging. And further, since gluten is a common -- but unlisted -- additive to prepared foods, it can be difficult to avoid. People are more likely to stick with the diet if they have symptoms that resolve.
For more information about Celiac Disease visit www.celiac.ca
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