Celiac Disease: Say ‘Yes’ to the Test

With much information – and, unfortunately, misinformation – about gluten currently available, people are self-diagnosing themselves as gluten-sensitive and trying to eliminate the protein from their diet. Is that a good idea? Absolutely not.

Celiac Awareness Month is a timely opportunity to educate the public about this serious gastrointestinal disorder. Celiac disease is an autoimmune digestive disease. When individuals with celiac disease eat gluten – a very prevalent protein found in wheat, rye and barley – their body mounts an immune response that attacks the small intestine and interferes with absorption of nutrients.

In addition to digestive problems, a person suffering from celiac disease may have skin lesions, anemia, brittle bones or problems with eyesight.

Left untreated, celiac disease can lead to a number of other health problems, including infertility, reduced bone density, neurological disorders, some cancers and other autoimmune diseases. It is a disease that merits attention, but that attention needs to begin with a visit to the doctor.

Celiac disease cannot be self-determined. Proper diagnosis requires a panel blood test and an endoscopic biopsy of the small intestine. A diagnosis of non-celiac gluten sensitivity, a less severe affliction, can only be made after first ruling out celiac disease.

A recent study, conducted by the Eastern Health Clinical School at Monash University and Alfred Hospital in Melbourne, Victoria, Australia, found that many people with gluten sensitivity have not had proper tests.

The study included 147 participants who believed they were sensitive to gluten. Researchers interviewed the participants, most of whom were women in their mid-40s, about their diets, gluten-related symptoms and any medical tests they had regarding their condition.

Out of the 147 participants, 106 individuals (72 percent) failed to meet the description of non-celiac gluten sensitivity. For example, they had not been tested to rule out celiac disease, still had symptoms despite removing gluten from their diet or weren’t following a gluten-free diet.

Researchers also found that 44 percent of the participants started gluten-free diets on their own; 35 percent eliminated gluten from their diet based on the recommendation of a dietitian or general practitioner; and 21 percent went gluten-free on the advice of an alternative health professional.

Approximately 58 percent of the respondents strictly adhered to a gluten-free diet, but nearly one in four still had symptoms.

Dr. Jessica R. Biesiekierski, the researcher who led the study, echoes what we at Gastrointestinal Associates have been saying for some time: Individuals should first see their gastroenterologist for proper testing before beginning a gluten-free diet.

Going gluten-free prior to testing for celiac disease obscures the results and makes it much more difficult to get a proper diagnosis.

It is important to note that celiac disease can develop at any age, which means a person who previously tested negative for the autoimmune intestinal disorder may test positive later in life.

Since May is Celiac Awareness Month, I’ll close by sharing these statistics from the Celiac Disease Foundation:

  • Worldwide, one in 100 people have celiac disease.
  • In the United States, only 17 percent of people with celiac disease are diagnosed.
  • The average time to diagnosis is six to 10 years, during which those with celiac disease experience a significantly reduced quality of life at great economic cost.
  • People with celiac disease have a fourfold increased risk of lymphoma and twofold increased risk of coronary heart disease, in addition to many other serious health complications.

If you believe that gluten is negatively impacting your health or if you are suffering from any of the symptoms discussed in this blog, I encourage you to schedule an appointment with a GIA physician today.