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Screening Children of Short Stature for Celiac Disease
Kathleen La Point

Kathleen LaPoint is a biomedical writer with a B.S. in Molecular Biology and an M.S. in Bacteriology from the University of Wisconsin - Madison.

By Kathleen La Point
Published on 12/20/2007
Highly sensitive and specific serological tests have led to the diagnosis of celiac disease in patients for whom short stature may be the only obvious symptom. After eliminating endocrine disorders as cause, researchers in India recently found that 27 of 176 (15%) children referred for short stature had celiac disease. Celiac disease can lead to short stature through a number of mechanisms, such as malabsorption of nutrients, resistance to growth hormones, autoimmune hypothydroidism, and hypogonadism. The researchers recommend that all short children be screened for celiac disease.

This article appeared in the Winter 2008 edition of Celiac.com's Scott-Free Newsletter.

Celiac.com 12/20/2007 - Celiac disease is under-diagnosed because many celiac disease patients do not show classic gastrointestinal symptoms. Highly sensitive and specific serological tests have led to the diagnosis of celiac disease in patients for whom short stature may be the only obvious symptom. Researchers from Brazil and Italy have previously reported that celiac disease accounts for 1-5% of short stature in children.

Prevalence of celiac disease varies widely according to geographic location. Although epidemiological studies are lacking in India, celiac disease reporting has increased exponentially due to targeted screening and better serological tests. To better understand the relationship between short stature and celiac disease, researchers from the Endocrine Clinic of the Postgraduate Institute of Medical Education and Research in Chandigarh studied children referred for a work-up of short stature from January 2005 to December 2006.

Researchers enrolled 176 patients, half male and half female, who fit the criteria for short stature: height ≥ 2.5 standard deviations below the mean for chronological age, growth rate below the fifth percentile for chronological age, and height ≥ 2 standard deviations below mean for chronological age when corrected for mid-parental height. Most patients were 10-15 years old (mean age of 14.5).

Researchers took detailed histories and carried out clinical evaluations and screening tests. If they could find no endocrine cause for short stature or if diarrhea had been present for more than 3 months, researchers estimated IgA anti-tissue transglutaminase antibodies (anti-tTG) and performed an endoscopic biopsy.

Celiac disease was found in 27 (15.3%) of the patients, making it the single most common cause of short stature. 25 children had pituitary disorder (14%), 24 had hypothyroidism (14%), and constitutional delay of growth and puberty or  familial short stature accounted for 18 (11%). Other less common causes of short stature were metabolic bone disease, Turner syndrome, adrenal disorders, diabetes mellitus, and nutritional deficiency. All celiac disease patients were positive for tTG antibodies and had a duodenal biopsy suggestive of celiac disease. All celiac disease patients were symptomatic; the most common symptoms after growth retardation were anemia (88%), weight loss (80%), diarrhea (69%), and delayed puberty (54%).

The average time to diagnosis for these patients was 5.5 years (95% cI: = 2.5 to 8.5 years). The celiac disease patients were treated with a gluten-free diet, calcium (500 mg/day), vitamin D (300,000 U cholecalciferol once every 3 months), and iron and multivitamin supplementation including folic acid and vitamin B12. During the 6-9 month follow-up period, growth rate velocity increased significantly from  2.9 cm/year (95%  cI = 2.41 to 3.39 cm/year) to 8.9 cm/year (95% cI = 6.7 to 11.1 cm/year).

Celiac disease can lead to short stature by causing autoimmune hypothydroidism, resistance to growth hormones, and malabsorption of protein, calcium and vitamin D. Additionally, celiac disease can lead to hypogonadism which inhibits the pubertal growth spurt. Researchers recommend that all short children be screened for celiac disease.

Bhadada, S. Bhansali, A., Kochhar, R., Shankar, A., Menon, A., Sinha, S., Dutta, PP., and Nain, C. Does every short stature child need screening for celiac disease? Gastroenterology [OnlineEarly Articles]. doi:10.1111/j.1440-1746.2007.05261.x