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Majority of Celiac Disease Patients are Asymptomatic and are Older when Diagnosed

Celiac.com 12/30/2004 - A new study on celiac disease was presented at the 69th Annual Scientific Meeting of the American College of Gastroenterology by S. Devi Rampertab, MD, from the North Shore Long Island Jewish Health System in New York. The study looked retroactively at 590 patients with a celiac diagnosis confirmed by biopsy from 1952 to 2004. They found that since 1980 the patient age of diagnosis has increased from 30.5 to 42, and the number of cases diagnosed after significant diarrhea decreased from 91% to 37%—and the time period from the development of the disease to its detection decreased from 11 years (before 1980) to four years now. New blood screening techniques are credited for the earlier detection of the disease, and the resulting decrease in the percentage of patients diagnosed after the development of a malignancy—which decreased from nearly 22% before 1980 to just over 5% now.

The positive trends noted in this study further support the use of widespread serum screening to detect celiac disease, as it can prevent many of the complications caused by the disease. One thing that isnt clear, however, is why the age of diagnosis is getting higher—even though Italian studies have determined through mass-screenings that celiac disease is present in at least 1% of all children. Since that number is consistent with the number of people in the USA with the disease, it stands to reason that celiac disease may in fact be a childhood disease, and if so, the 42 year-old average age of diagnosis in the USA would indicate a massive failure of our health care system to detect the disease. More studies need to be done to determine the number of children in the USA with celiac disease.

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Since most celiacs have little or no symptoms—Celiac.com believes that the only reasonable way to get them properly diagnosed and treated would be to have widespread serological screenings of the general population. The disease affects at least 1% of the population in the USA, and the benefits for such screenings would far outweigh their cost.

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