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Eur J Pediatr. 2009 Jul;168(7):839-45. doi: 10.1007/s00431-008-0845-4. Epub 2008 Oct 16.

Clinical presentation of celiac disease and the diagnostic accuracy of serologic markers in children.

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University Children's Hospital Berne, Bern, Switzerland.


There has been growing recognition of a changing clinical presentation of celiac disease (CD), with the manifestation of milder symptoms. Serologic testing is widely used to screen patients with suspected CD and populations at risk. The aim of this retrospective analysis was to evaluate the clinical presentation of CD in childhood, assess the diagnostic value of serologic tests, and investigate the impact of IgA deficiency on diagnostic accuracy. We evaluated 206 consecutive children with suspected CD on the basis of clinical symptoms and positive serology results. Ninety-four (46%) had biopsy-proven CD. The median age at diagnosis of CD was 6.8 years; 15% of the children were <2 years of age. There was a higher incidence of CD in girls (p = 0.003). Iron deficiency and intestinal complaints were more frequent in children with CD than those without CD (61% vs. 33%, p = 0.0001 and 71% vs. 55%, p = 0.02, respectively), while failure to thrive was less common (35% vs. 53%, p = 0.02). The sensitivity of IgA tissue transglutaminase (IgA-tTG) was 0.98 when including all children and 1.00 after excluding children with selective IgA deficiency. The specificity of IgA-tTG was 0.73 using the recommended cut-off value of 20 IU, and this improved to 0.94 when using a higher cut-off value of 100 IU. All children with CD and relative IgA deficiency (IgA levels that are measurable but below the age reference [n = 8]) had elevated IgA-tTG. In conclusion, CD is frequently diagnosed in school-age children with relatively mild symptoms. The absence of intestinal symptoms does not preclude the diagnosis of CD; many children with CD do not report intestinal symptoms. While the sensitivity of IgA-tTG is excellent, its specificity is insufficient for the diagnostic confirmation of a disease requiring life-long dietary restrictions. Children with negative IgA-tTG and decreased but measurable IgA values are unlikely to have CD.

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