Children’s growth rates could be the key to catching celiac disease early, according to a major study out of Finland.
“Prior to diagnosis, growth faltered in most children with celiac,” the researchers stated in the study. “These children could have been detected several years earlier by a well-established growth-monitoring program.”
Celiac disease is an autoimmune condition that causes the body to reject gluten. Whenever the offending protein – found in grains such as wheat, barley and rye – is eaten, the intestine become damaged and key nutrients such as iron, folate and fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E and K cannot be absorbed. The resulting symptoms include malnutrition, and in children, a short stature or the inability to put on weight.
Investigating the latter, Finnish researchers looked back at records from three university hospitals from 1994 to 2009 to compare the growth of more than 51,000 healthy children, aged 0 to 20, to that of patients who were found to have celiac disease before the age of 16. The results, published in JAMA Pediatrics, showed that more than half of the young celiac patients (57 percent of girls and 48 percent of boys) demonstrated below average growth patterns two years before they were diagnosed with celiac disease.
None of the 177 children with celiac disease had any other conditions that would impact their growth, according to the study.
The rates of celiac disease are on the rise and an estimated 83 percent of Americans with the condition are either undiagnosed or misdiagnosed with another disease. If left untreated, this disorder can lead to further health issues including infertility, osteoporosis, neurological problems and other autoimmune conditions.
“Acceptable screening accuracy can be achieved for celiac disease via the use of several growth-monitoring parameters in combination, preferably using computerized screening algorithms that are integrated into an electronic health record system,” concluded the authors.
Researchers considered five factors when conducting their growth screening for celiac: how different a child’s height and body mass index were from the population average; how off a child was from their target height, and the rate of growth and body mass index compared to average children. Though none of these were sufficient predictors of celiac disease on their own, these researchers say that the five elements taken together could predict the disease with a high level of accuracy.
The study noted that using such growth factors to screen pediatric patients for celiac disease represents a low-cost, non-invasive way to detect the condition early.