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  • Jefferson Adams
    Jefferson Adams

    CELIAC DISEASE RATES IN THE ELDERLY SHOW IMPORTANCE OF RAPID DIAGNOSIS

    Reviewed and edited by a celiac disease expert.

      A new study charting celiac disease rates in the elderly shows the importance of rapid diagnosis as a means of relieving symptoms and improving quality of life.


    Caption: Image: CC--Patrick Doheny

    Celiac.com 03/19/2018 - Celiac disease can sometimes have vague or atypical symptoms, which can delay or prevent proper diagnosis. For elderly celiac patients, such delays may prevent them from adopting a gluten free diet that can dramatically improve their quality of life.

    A team of researchers recently set out to review the occurrence, clinical features, diagnosis and management in celiac patients detected later in life. The research team included P Collin, A Vilppula, L Luostarinen, GKT Holmes, and K Kaukinen. They are variously affiliated with the Department of Gastroenterology and Alimentary Tract Surgery, Tampere University Hospital, Tampere, Finland; the University of Tampere, Tampere, Finland; the Department of Clinical Neurophysiology, Neuroscience, HUS Medical Imaging Centre, University of Helsinki, Helsinki University Hospital, Helsinki, Finland; the Päijät-Häme Central Hospital, Lahti, Finland; the Department of Gastroenterology, the Royal Derby Hospital, Derby, UK; and with the Department of Medicine, Faculty of Medicine and Life-Sciences, Tampere University Hospital, University of Tampere, Tampere, Finland.

    The research team conducted a review of manuscripts concerning celiac disease in the elderly, and derived subgroups of elderly patients from celiac disease articles.

    The team found that one in four patients diagnosed with celiac disease are aged 60 years or over, and one if five patients are 65 years or over. About 4% of celiac patients are diagnosed at 80 years or above.  Around 60% of cases in the elderly remain undetected, mainly due to an non-gastrointestinal symptoms, or the absence of classical symptoms. Common symptoms in these people include: tiredness, indigestion, reduced appetite. 

    The sooner elderly patients are diagnosed, the sooner they can begin to follow a gluten free diet, which leads to the resolution of symptoms and improvement in quality of life in over 90% of patients.

    It is not uncommon for elderly people to suffer from celiac disease, and to be diagnosed with later in life. It is also not uncommon for diagnosis to take years. This study shows that it is important do diagnose elderly people quickly and accurately, so they may begin to enjoy the full benefits of a gluten-free diet.

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    My mother had celiac type symptoms that I remember in her 40s (during the early 1970s), such as frequent runs to the bathroom after eating, weight loss without explanation, and skin tearing and reddish bruises on her arms, but no one knew about celiac then. Later, numbness in her feet. She told stories of always wanting to sleep and frequent falls down stairs as a child.  

    Knowing celiac is genetic and since I was diagnosed in 2006 at age 53, and since my mother continued having different issues off and on,  I asked the doctor to do the blood test for antibodies and one was elevated.  But his attitude was that celiac wasn't genetic, could just happen spontaneously and that she didn't have it.  She was in her 80s then and living in assisted living at the time and they couldn't accommodate a gluten free diet, I was told.  Later she was in a nursing facility and again, no gluten free accommodations.  This was in 2012-2014.  How tragic for our elderly who need that help.  Sometimes I think medical professionals consider people too old or sick to bother with.  

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  • About Me

    Jefferson Adams is Celiac.com's senior writer and Digital Content Director. He earned his B.A. and M.F.A. at Arizona State University, and has authored more than 2,000 articles on celiac disease. His coursework includes studies in science, scientific methodology, biology, anatomy, medicine, logic, and advanced research. He previously served as SF Health News Examiner for Examiner.com, and devised health and medical content for Sharecare.com. Jefferson has spoken about celiac disease to the media, including an appearance on the KQED radio show Forum, and is the editor of the book "Cereal Killers" by Scott Adams and Ron Hoggan, Ed.D.

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