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Jane Anderson

Study: Overall Health Good in Celiac Teens Diagnosed After Screening

By February 17, 2013

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Teenagers who were diagnosed with celiac disease following a screening at their school don't have any more problems with pain, mobility, activity or anxiety/depression than their peers without celiac, a new study shows.

The study, published this month in the medical journal BMC Public Health, investigated the "health-related quality of life" of Swedish 6th graders who learned they had celiac disease because everyone at their school was tested for the condition (not because they had celiac symptoms that led to testing or because they had a close relative diagnosed).

The researchers compared those who had been diagnosed following the screening with peers who didn't have celiac disease, querying them on their health-related quality of life both before diagnosis and one year after. They found few differences between the two groups' health-related quality of life, which they broke down into five separate sub-categories: mobility, self-care, activity, pain, and anxiety/depression.

In fact, measures for both the celiac teens and their non-celiac peers were the about same in every area both before and after diagnosis, with one exception: In the area of "pain," teenage boys who didn't have celiac disease experienced significantly more pain than teenage boys with the condition one year after diagnosis -- nearly 19% of non-celiac boys reported pain in the second survey round, compared to just over 4% of their celiac counterparts.

For anxiety, both adolescents and celiac teens showed an increase in the second survey (one year after the first) -- the percentage of celiac teens reporting anxiety rose from nearly 13% to nearly 15%, while the percentage of non-celiac teens reporting anxiety rose from about 11% to nearly 20%. However, these differences didn't reach statistical significance, meaning they could have been due simply to chance.

So what does all this mean for teens who have celiac disease -- especially those who didn't have major symptoms at diagnosis? Well, it indicates that diagnosing them early doesn't change their health-related quality of life, and in fact might have some benefits.

Still, other studies have reported that teens with celiac disease feel different and stigmatized, so there are some major downsides to this type of early diagnosis by screening, too. Lots of people I know (me included) wish we could have been diagnosed in our teens, as it would have saved us years of health problems. But my daughter struggles with the diet and its limitations every day, and hates being different from her peers. I wish I had a solution for her.

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Photo Getty Images/Ron Levine

September 12, 2013 at 11:52 am
(1) Suzanne says:

It may be difficult to truly liken this to the health-related quality-of-life of teens diagnosed with celiac in the U.S., as attitudes toward disease and health differ greatly around the world, especially in Scandinavia (and this reader would argue where the attitude toward health issues is far more enlightened and progressive). In particular, standing out to me is that these were “6th graders who learned they had celiac disease because everyone at their school was tested for the condition.” Just this alone points to a much different environment regarding celiac disease, and an open understanding of what the disease is all about. Here, in the U.S., these kids are often singled out as “different” or “weird” with little understanding or acknowledgment about the nature of their disease and limitations. Just sayin’ … tho it certainly is an interesting study.

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