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Proc Nutr Soc. 2012 Nov;71(4):538-44. doi: 10.1017/S0029665112000262. Epub 2012 May 3.

Are we diagnosing too many people with coeliac disease?

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  • 1Department of Gastroenterology, Royal Hallamshire Hospital, Glossop Road, Sheffield S10 2JF, UK.


This review will try to address the question of whether we are diagnosing too many people with coeliac disease. The key reasons for diagnosing coeliac disease may be that it is a common condition affecting up to 1% of the adult population. Delays in diagnosis are common. The average time delay reported by Coeliac UK (National Medical Patient Charity), for patients with symptoms prior to the diagnosis being made is 13 years. For every adult case detected, it is estimated that there are eight cases not detected. Patients with coeliac disease have an associated morbidity and mortality. In addition, quality of life studies suggest that the majority of patients benefit from a gluten-free diet (GFD). Furthermore, the GFD reduces or alleviates the risk of the associated complications. All of these facts could even be used to support the argument for screening! However, conversely the tests for coeliac disease are not 100% sensitive and specific. In addition, we do not know whether patients with milder symptoms will derive less benefit from treatment and are at less risk of complications. Furthermore, evidence presented in this review suggests that actual outcomes for screening studies in an adult population have revealed poor uptake and subsequently difficulties with adherence. What little published data that are available also infers that individuals recognised through screening programmes could have been detected if carefully questioned for symptoms. There is evidence to suggest that diagnosing celiac disease is cost-effective and that the diagnostic costs are offset by reduced medical expenditures, reduced hospital and general practice attendances, but this view depends on the population prevalence of coeliac disease. We believe on the basis of the evidence presented in this review that we are not diagnosing too many adults with coeliac disease. However, the authors consider case-finding with a low threshold for serological testing to be the optimal approach. If you look for coeliac disease you will find it.

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