University of Chicago Hospitals offers screening for celiac disease

University of Chicago Hospitals offers screening for celiac disease

October 15, 2005

From 8:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. on Saturday, October 22, 2005, representatives of the celiac disease center at the University of Chicago Hospitals expect to screen nearly 500 people for this common--but little known and under-diagnosed--disease. The testing will take place on the third floor of the University of Chicago Hospitals' Duchossois Center for Advanced Medicine, 5758 S. Maryland Ave.

At a similar event last year, the staff tested 394 people and found that four percent (16 people) had celiac disease. There are 435 people already registered, including families from Texas, Kentucky, Michigan, Wisconsin, Indiana, and throughout Illinois. More than one-third are children.

Celiac disease is a digestive disorder triggered by the protein gluten, which is found in wheat, barley, and rye. Gluten can trigger an autoimmune reaction in the intestines of genetically susceptible people, which causes a variety of gastrointestinal symptoms and prevents the proper absorption of food and nutrients--leading to serious health consequences. People with celiac disease, however, can lead normal, healthy lives by following a gluten-free diet.

The disease affects about one out of 133 people. Symptoms of celiac disease vary among individuals. Most common are diarrhea, constipation, and abdominal pain; but it can be a difficult disease to diagnose because symptoms can also include weight loss, anemia, osteoporosis, lassitude, and depression. Sometimes, there are no symptoms.

Registration for the screening began in August. It includes an intake interview to establish that a potential participant has established risk factors. Most participants are immediate family members of confirmed celiacs. Close relatives have 10-times normal risk.

Eight phlebotomists will be on staff to draw blood samples--at the rate of 100 per hour--and send them to an experienced lab in San Diego, California for analysis. Results are received in three weeks. Participants with positive test results receive immediate phone calls and ongoing counseling as they receive medical treatment to confirm the diagnosis. All participants are notified of their results in writing.

Research shows that children with celiac disease see eight pediatricians, on average, before they are diagnosed. Yet children diagnosed by four years of age will not experience many of the serious complications that face older children and adults. For instance, children diagnosed by the age of 12 have a 27 percent chance of developing an autoimmune condition. The risk for an average person is only 3.5 percent.

Forty-one percent of adults with celiac disease have no symptoms and would only be detected through routine screening (though would suffer from silent celiac disease). Other common signs include iron deficiency anemia, infertility, osteoporosis, fatigue, minor GI symptoms, and related autoimmune disorders. Most specialists do not routinely screen patients with these conditions for celiac disease. It takes an average of 11 years for an adult to receive a diagnosis.