Leading physicians in the United States, tasked with drafting guidelines on celiac disease screening, report that additional research is needed in order to find out just how beneficial testing really is for people who do not show any of the symptoms of the condition yet are at high risk to develop it.

The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) has issued its draft recommendations on Tuesday regarding the potential benefits of testing individuals for celiac disease, a condition that causes the small intestines to become hypersensitive to gluten, leading to difficulty in digesting food.

The group's main goal is to determine whether screening for the disease would be effective particularly for people who have been identified to be at high risk because of having a family history of celiac disease or as a result of developing diabetes.

However, the USPSTF's findings turned up to be inconclusive because there is still not enough evidence available that would allow its members to say if testing is indeed effective.

Dr. Alex Krist, an expert of family medicine from the Virginia Commonwealth University, said that since there's still no concrete proof to support celiac disease screening, physicians should rely on their clinical judgment to determine who needs to be tested for the condition.

He said that the USPSTF encourages individuals who are at high risk of developing the condition to consult their doctor on what specific tests are better suited for them.

The University of Chicago's Celiac Disease Center said that about one in every 133 people living in the United States suffers from celiac disease. First-degree relatives of those who have celiac disease are at a high risk of getting the condition as well.

Two of the most well-known forms of screening for celiac disease involve testing a patient's blood for antibodies that manifest an immune response when exposed to gluten and conducting a biopsy of the patient's small intestine.

Doctors advise people who develop celiac disease to strictly follow a gluten-free diet to help relieve symptoms of the condition such as gas, bloating, anemia, diarrhea, weight loss and abdominal pain. The USPSTF's draft guidelines do not apply to individuals who experience these symptoms of the disease.

Krist pointed out that one particular concern people have regarding widespread celiac disease screening is that biopsies carry their own risks and that they may even confirm cases of the condition despite not causing any health problems to patients. They may also lead people to seek treatment even if it is unnecessary.

Despite the USPSTF not finding sufficient evidence to support celiac disease screening, Beyond Celiac CEO Alice Bast said that it should not stop doctors from testing people who have an increased risk for the condition.

She said that the hassles and potential downsides to celiac disease screening are far outweighed by the long-term health problems associated with the condition.

Those who have untreated celiac disease could develop various health complications such as infertility, low bone density, malnutrition and lactose intolerance.

Photo: Ed Uthman | Flickr 

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