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(The Nemours Foundation)
Celiac disease results from a sensitivity to a dietary protein (called gluten) found in wheat and certain other grains. The immune system’s abnormal response to this protein causes damage to the lining of the intestine, interfering with its ability to absorb nutrients. How common is celiac disease? Researchers from the University of Colorado School of Medicine in Denver examined the prevalence of celiac disease in a group of 5-year-old children.

Three hundred eighty-six 5-year-old children participated in this 5-year study of the prevalence of celiac disease. At birth, the umbilical cord blood of all the children was tested to determine the presence of a gene that may identify people at increased risk for developing celiac disease. Throughout the study, the children periodically underwent additional blood tests and if celiac disease was suspected, biopsies of the child’s intestinal tract were done to diagnose the disease.

Within the general population, the risk for celiac disease among 5-year-olds was about 1%. The risk for celiac disease was higher in female children. In general, celiac disease was not recognized in children under 2.5 years.

What This Means to You: Celiac disease affects one child out of every 100, according to the results of this study. If your child has any of the symptoms associated with celiac disease such as difficulty gaining weight, vomiting, diarrhea, fatigue, and irritability, talk to your child’s doctor. The good news? The symptoms of celiac disease can be eliminated if your child eats a gluten-free diet.

Source: Edward J. Hoffenberg, MD; Todd MacKenzie, PhD; Katherine J. Barriga, MSPH; George S. Eisenbarth, MD, PhD; Fei Bao, MD; Joel E. Haas, MD; Henry Erlich, PhD; T. L. Bugawan, BS; Ronald J. Sokol, MD; Iman Taki, BS; Jill M. Norris, PhD; Marian Rewers, MD, PhD, MPH; Journal of Pediatrics, September 2003

Reviewed by: Steven Dowshen, MD
Date reviewed: October 2003

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