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Diagnosis of Celiac Disease
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 with signs of malnutrition (especially if there is a family history of the disease) despite a normal, healthy appetite
- In an adult with 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:
Blood Tests to look 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
Endoscopy —a thin, lighted tube inserted down the throat to examine and biopsy the intestine
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Biopsy —Performed via endoscopy 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 disease, 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.
Celiac disease. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed. Updated December 11, 2015. Accessed December 31, 2015.
Celiac disease: Diagnosis & tests. American Academy of Family Physicians Family Doctor website. Available at: http://familydoctor.org/familydoctor/en/diseases-conditions/celiac-disease/diagnosis-tests.html. Updated April 2014. Accessed December 31, 2015.
Celiac disease (gluten enteropathy). Merck Manual Professional Version website. Available at: http://www.merckmanuals.com/professional/gastrointestinal-disorders/malabsorption-syndromes/celiac-disease. Updated May 2014. Accessed December 31, 2015.
What I need to know about celiac disease. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases website. Available at: http://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/health-topics/digestive-diseases/celiac-disease/Pages/ez.aspx. Updated September 2013. Accessed December 31, 2015.
- Reviewer: Daus Mahnke, MD
- Review Date: 12/2015
- Update Date: 12/20/2014