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Gastroenterology. 2005 Apr;128(4 Suppl 1):S104-8.

Should adults be screened for celiac disease? What are the benefits and harms of screening?

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  • 1Department of Gastroenterology and Alimentary Tract Surgery, Tampere University Hospital and Medical School, University of Tampere, Tampere, Finland.


The symptoms of celiac disease are diverse, and the disease is often asymptomatic. Without active serologic screening, most cases probably remain undiagnosed. Recent serologic screening assays allow mass screening for the disease. However, there is no evidence as yet to suggest that symptom-free celiac disease patients run an increased risk of small intestinal lymphoma or other complications. The prevention of osteoporosis seems to be the strongest indicator for widespread screening today. Screening asymptomatic individuals for celiac disease may be even harmful. A lifelong gluten-free diet is not easy to maintain, and the subject's quality of life may deteriorate. It is also debatable whether patients found by active screening adhere to a gluten-free diet similarly to symptomatic ones. The cost-effectiveness of population screening is dubious. Serologic screening should be applied in individuals with even subtle symptoms indicative of celiac disease, such as subclinical-isolated iron deficiency. In various autoimmune conditions, the risk of celiac disease is approximately 5% and, in individuals with affected first-degree relatives, 15%. Infertility, neurologic symptoms such as polyneuropathy, ataxia, epilepsy with posterior cerebral calcification, and osteoporosis are conditions in which celiac disease should be kept in mind. Elevated aminotransferases and liver failure can lead to a diagnosis of celiac disease. Evidence today does not support mass screening of celiac disease. Instead, increased alertness should be observed in patients at risk of the condition.

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