Growth Checks in Children Might Spot Celiac Disease

The gastrointestinal illness typically slows height, weight gains, experts say

MONDAY, March 2, 2015 (HealthDay News) -- Checking children for growth problems may help identify those with celiac disease, according to a new study.

Celiac disease is an autoimmune disorder in which the body has an immune reaction to a component of wheat called gluten, leading to damage to the small intestine. According to the Celiac Disease Foundation, the illness strikes about one in every 100 people worldwide.

Celiac disease is typically difficult to diagnose. It leads to "short stature, poor weight gain and poor growth, and has been underdiagnosed in children," said one expert, Dr. Gina Sam, director of the Gastrointestinal Motility Center at Mount Sinai in New York City.

The new study was led by Dr. Antti Saari of the University of Eastern Finland. His team tracked the growth of 177 children from the time they were born until they were diagnosed with celiac disease.

The researchers found that screening children for five height- and weight-related differences in growth could be an effective means of spotting those with celiac disease. Using all five measures together was more effective than using one alone, Saari's team noted.

Compared to children in the general population, girls with celiac disease were shorter two years before their diagnosis, while boys were shorter one year before diagnosis, according to the study published online March 2 in the journal JAMA Pediatrics.

"Growth failure remains an early and common feature in patients with celiac disease and an up-to-date growth reference and well-established growth-monitoring program could facilitate the early diagnosis of celiac disease," the research team wrote.

Sam called the research "important," agreeing that tracking growth may "help us diagnose young kids with celiac disease earlier."

Dr. Michael Joseph Pettei is chief of the division of gastroenterology at Cohen Children's Medical Center in New Hyde Park, N.Y. He said the new study "extends the well-known association of growth failure in children with celiac disease."

Pettei believes the study "emphasizes the importance of regular well-child pediatric care with careful and sophisticated attention to subtle weight and height changes."

More information

The American Academy of Family Physicians has more about celiac disease.