Clinical Health Updates

Celiac disease common in primary care patients with chronic GI symptoms

Clinical question
Can a case-finding strategy identify more patients with celiac disease?

Bottom line
This study tells us that celiac disease (CD) is relatively common in primary care practice, particularly in patients with gastrointestinal symptoms, chronic fatigue, or thyroid disease. Patients with persistent symptoms should be evaluated for CD using the strategy described in this study, and the diagnosis should be confirmed either by intestinal biopsy or a successful trial of a gluten-free diet.

Reference
Catassi C, Kryszak D, Louis-Jacques O, et al. Detection of celiac disease in primary care: a multicenter case-finding study in North America. Am J Gastroenterol 2007;102:1454-1460.

Study design: Cohort (prospective)

Synopsis
Celiac disease (CD) is one of the most common lifelong disorders in western countries. However, most cases remain currently undiagnosed in North America, mostly due to poor awareness of CD by primary care physicians. The authors determined whether an active case-finding strategy in primary care could increase the frequency of CD diagnosis and to determine the most common clinical presentations of the condition. This was a multicenter, prospective study involving adult subjects during the years 2002-2004, attending one of the participating practices. All individuals with symptoms or conditions known to be associated with CD were tested for immunoglobulin A anti-transglutaminase (tTG) antibodies, and those with elevated anti-tTG were subsequently tested for IgA antiendomysial antibodies (EMA). All subjects who were positive for EMA were advised to undergo an intestinal biopsy and HLA typing. The study group included 737 women and 239 men, with a median age of 54.3 yr. A positive anti-tTG test was found in 30 out of 976 investigated subjects (3.07%, 95% CI 1.98-4.16). CD was diagnosed in 22 patients (18 women, 4 men). The most frequent reasons for CD screening in these 22 cases were bloating (12/22), thyroid disease (11/22), irritable bowel syndrome (7/22), unexplained chronic diarrhea (6/22), chronic fatigue (5/22), and constipation (4/22). The prevalence of CD in the serologically screened sample was 2.25% (95% CI 1.32-3.18). The diagnostic rate was low at baseline (0.27 cases per thousand visits, 95% CI 0.13-0.41) and significantly increased to 11.6 per thousand visits (95% CI 6.8-16.4, P < 0.001) following active screening implementation.