Diagnosis & Management of Celiac Disease
Celiac disease is an immune-based reaction to dietary gluten (storage protein for wheat, barley, and rye) that primarily affects the small intestine in those with a genetic predisposition and resolves with exclusion of gluten from the diet. There has been a substantial increase in the prevalence of celiac disease over the last 50 years and an increase in the rate of diagnosis in the last 10 years.
Celiac disease can present with many symptoms, including typical gastrointestinal symptoms (e.g., diarrhea, steatorrhea, weight loss, bloating, flatulence, abdominal pain) and also non-gastrointestinal abnormalities (e.g., abnormal liver function tests, iron deficiency anemia, bone disease, skin disorders, and many other protean manifestations). Indeed, many individuals with celiac disease may have no symptoms at all.
Celiac disease is usually detected by serologic testing of celiac-specific antibodies. The diagnosis is confirmed by duodenal mucosal biopsies. Both serology and biopsy should be performed on a gluten-containing diet.
The treatment for celiac disease is primarily a gluten-free diet (GFD), which requires significant patient education, motivation, and follow-up. Non-responsive celiac disease occurs frequently, particularly in those diagnosed in adulthood. Persistent or recurring symptoms should lead to a review of the patient’s original diagnosis to exclude alternative diagnoses, a review of the GFD to ensure there is no obvious gluten contamination, and serologic testing to confirm adherence with the GFD. In addition, evaluation for disorders associated with celiac disease that could cause persistent symptoms, such as microscopic colitis, pancreatic exocrine dysfunction, and complications of celiac disease, such as enteropathy-associated lymphoma or refractory celiac disease, should be entertained.
Newer therapeutic modalities are being studied in clinical trials, but are not yet approved for use in practice. Given the incomplete response of many patients to a GFD-free diet as well as the difficulty of adherence to the GFD over the long term, development of new effective therapies for symptom control and reversal of inflammation and organ damage are needed. The prevalence of celiac disease is increasing worldwide and many patients with celiac disease remain undiagnosed, highlighting the need for improved strategies in the future for the optimal detection of patients.
Specific diagnostic and treatment criteria are discussed in detail here.