Background: There has been a growing recognition that coeliac disease is much more common than previously recognised, and this has coincided with the increasingly widespread use of serological testing.
Aim: To determine whether the age at presentation and the clinical presentation of coeliac disease have changed with the advent of serological testing.
Methods: A 21-year review of prospectively recorded data on the mode of presentation of biopsy confirmed coeliac disease in a single regional centre. Presenting features over the past 5 years were compared with those of the previous 16 years. Between 1983 and 1989 (inclusive), no serological testing was undertaken; between 1990 and 1998, antigliadin antibody was used with occasional use of antiendomysial antibody and antireticulin antibody. From 1999 onwards, anti-tissue transglutaminase was used.
Results: 86 patients were diagnosed over the 21-year period: 50 children between 1999 and 2004 compared with 25 children between 1990 and 1998 and 11 children between 1983 and 1989. The median age at presentation has risen over the years. Gastrointestinal manifestations as presenting features have decreased dramatically. In the past 5 years, almost one in four children with coeliac disease was diagnosed by targeted screening.
Conclusion: This study reports considerable changes in the presentation of coeliac disease—namely, a decreased proportion presenting with gastrointestinal manifestations and a rise in the number of patients without symptoms picked up by targeted screening. Almost one in four children with coeliac disease is now diagnosed by targeted screening. Most children with coeliac disease remain undiagnosed. Paediatricians and primary care physicians should keep the possibility of coeliac disease in mind and have a low threshold for testing, so that the potential long-term problems associated with untreated coeliac disease can be prevented.
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Published Online First 3 August 2006
Competing interests: None declared.