Celiac disease is a life-long condition that has severe consequences yet many people remain undiagnosed.
Celiac disease is a genetically-determined, autoimmune condition caused by a permanent intolerance to gluten found in wheat, barley and rye. The condition causes inflammation in the small intestine, leading to diarrhea, weight loss, fatigue and other non-specific symptoms. It has been estimated that around 1% of the population may have Celiac disease, although estimates vary between countries. Its prevalence may be increasing. If left undiagnosed and untreated, CD can have a profound effect on quality of life may lead to adverse pregnancy outcomes and has been associated with a reduced life-expectancy.
Given its severity, lengthy diagnostic delays may be putting health at risk so the authors of a UEG Journal editorial who assessed the viability of screening for CD in the general population have concluded that screening of first-degree relatives of people with Celiac disease, people with type 1 diabetes, iron-deficiency anemia, Down's syndrome and other high-risk groups may be needed.
A diagnosis of Celiac disease is usually made based on the presence of antibodies to gluten in the blood in addition to biopsy evidence of inflammation in the small intestine.However, the availability of sensitive and specific blood tests for markers of CD has raised the possibility of population-wide screening for CD in an effort to ensure earlier diagnosis and treatment of the condition.
"Celiac disease is readily treated with a gluten-free diet, so it is unacceptable that people suffer its symptoms for many years before they are properly diagnosed," says Professor Antonio Gasbarrini from the Gemelli University Hospital in Rome, Italy. "We now have blood screening tests that are simple, safe and accurate, and it is time we started using them effectively to limit the damage caused by this common condition.
"Unfortunately, because the symptoms of CD are often vague and similar to those of irritable bowel syndrome, many people with CD are undiagnosed and many who are diagnosed will have waited 10 years or more for their diagnosis to be confirmed. At best, only around one-quarter of all CD sufferers are likely to have been diagnosed by a physician,6 leaving large numbers of people still at risk."
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