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.
Photo © Getty Images/Ron Levine