Your doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history and perform a physical exam. Because the symptoms of celiac disease are often very similar to those of other conditions, it can be difficult to obtain an accurate diagnosis early on. However, early diagnosis of celiac disease is very important because the earlier you start the gluten-free diet, the less likely you are to have advanced damage to your intestinal tract. Maintaining a gluten-free diet is very important to help prevent complications caused by celiac disease.
Your doctor may suspect celiac disease:
- In a child—if the child eats well but still shows signs of malnutrition (especially if there is a family history of the disease)
- In an adult—if you have dermatitis herpetiformis (a gluten-sensitive skin rash),
gastrointestinal symptoms, evidence of iron deficiency, signs of vitamin deficiency, or a family history of the disease.
If celiac disease is suspected, tests will be done to confirm the diagnosis. Tests include:
—a blood sample is taken to check for:
- The presence of certain antibodies to gluten, which are produced by the immune system
- Evidence of malabsorption of nutrients, such as anemia and vitamin and mineral deficiencies
—a thin, lighted tube inserted down the throat to examine and biopsy the intestine
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—Performed via an endoscope to confirm the diagnosis of celiac disease. It requires the removal of a small sample of tissue from the small intestine during endoscopy to test for flattened and damaged villi. If the biopsy shows signs of celiac sprue, you may be put on a gluten-free diet for about 3-6 months. After that time, a second biopsy may be done to look for signs of improvement, such as positive changes in the villi of the small intestine.
American Academy of Family Physicians website. Available at:
http://www.aafp.org/. Accessed March 9, 2006.
Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research
website. Available at:
http://www.mayo.edu/. Accessed March 9, 2006.
The Merck Manual of Medical Information,
17th ed. Simon and Schuster, Inc.; 2000.
National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases
website. Available at:
http://www.niddk.nih.gov/. Accessed March 9, 2006.
Last reviewed September 2012 by Daus Mahnke, MD
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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