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Can Systematic Growth Monitoring Lead to Early Detection of Celiac Disease in Kids?

Celiac.com 04/08/2015 - The goal of growth-monitoring programs in children is the early detection of any disorders that affect growth. Celiac disease is under-diagnosed in kids whose symptoms include faltering linear growth, short stature, or poor weight gain. A team of researchers recently set out to develop new evidence-based parameters for screening for growth disorders and to evaluate the performance of these cutoffs among children with celiac disease measured regularly in a nationwide growth screening program.

Photo: CC--James EmeryThe research team included Antti Saari, MD; Samuli Harju, BM; Outi Mäkitie, MD, PhD; Marja-Terttu Saha, MD, PhD; Leo Dunkel, MD, PhD; and Ulla Sankilampi, MD, PhD. They are variously affiliated with the Department of Pediatrics, School of Medicine, University of Eastern Finland, Kuopio, the Children’s Hospital at the University of Helsinki and Helsinki University Hospital in Helsinki, Finland, the Folkhälsan Research Centre in Helsinki, Finland, the Department of Molecular Medicine and Surgery at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, Sweden, the Department of Pediatrics at Tampere University Hospital in Tampere, Finland, the Centre for Endocrinology at the William Harvey Research Institute of Barts and the London School of Medicine and Dentistry at Queen Mary University of London in London, England and the Department of Pediatrics at Kuopio University Hospital, Kuopio, Finland.

Their longitudinal retrospective study included growth data of healthy children from primary health care providers, and children with celiac disease from primary health care, and three university hospital outpatient clinics in Finland, Kuopio University Hospital, Tampere University Hospital, and Helsinki University Hospital, from January 1, 1994, to April 9, 2009.

Children of the reference population were under 20 years of age, while children in the celiac disease group were between 1 and 16 years of age. In the reference population of 51,332 healthy children, the team screened according to five age- and sex-specific growth parameters: height standard deviation score and body mass index standard deviation score, distance from the population mean, distance from target height, change in height standard deviation score, and change in body mass index standard deviation score.

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They evaluated these parameters and their combination in 177 children with celiac disease by analyzing longitudinal growth data from birth until diagnosis of celiac disease.

They measured the screening accuracy for detecting abnormal growth in children with celiac disease by using receiver operating characteristics analysis expressed as the area under the curve. When the team screened using the combination of all 5 growth-screening parameters, they detected celiac disease with good accuracy ([95% CI] = 0.88 [0.84–0.93] for girls and 0.84 [0.77–0.91] for boys).

When they set the screening specificity at 90%, they saw abnormal growth in 57% of the girls with celiac disease, and in 48% of the boys with celiac disease for two years prior to diagnosis. This study shows that most kids with celiac disease experience faltering growth prior to diagnosis. An effective growth-monitoring program could have detected celiac disease in these kids several years earlier.

By using several growth-monitoring parameters in combination, preferably using computerized screening algorithms that are integrated into an electronic health record system, researchers can improve sreening accuracy.

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