Physician awareness of celiac disease: a need for further education

J Gen Intern Med. 2005 Jul;20(7):644-6. doi: 10.1111/j.1525-1497.2005.0107.x.


Background: Celiac disease is a common disorder (up to 0.7%); however, it is uncommonly diagnosed in the United States.

Objective: We sought to determine physician awareness of celiac disease.

Design: Surveys completed by 2,440 (47%) of 5,191 patients in a support group were analyzed for frequency of diagnosis by physician specialties. Questionnaires were then sent to primary care physicians (PCPs) (n=132) in a southern California county to assess knowledge of celiac disease.

Results: In patient surveys, only 11% were diagnosed by PCPs (internists and family physicians) versus 65% by gastroenterologists. Physician surveys (70% response) showed that only 35% of PCPs had ever diagnosed celiac disease. Almost all physicians (95%) knew of wheat intolerance, but few (32%) knew that onset of symptoms in adulthood is common. Physicians were well aware (90%) of diarrhea as a symptom, but fewer knew of common symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome (71%), chronic abdominal pain (67%), fatigue (54%), depression and irritability (24%) or of associations with diabetes (13%), anemia (45%) or osteoporosis (45%), or of diagnosis by endomysial antibody tests (44%).

Conclusions: Lack of physician awareness of adult onset of symptoms, associated disorders, and use of serology testing may contribute to the underdiagnosis of celiac disease.

MeSH terms

  • Awareness
  • California
  • Celiac Disease / diagnosis*
  • Clinical Competence*
  • Data Collection
  • Diagnostic Errors*
  • Humans
  • Physicians, Family*
  • Professional Practice*
  • Self-Help Groups
  • Surveys and Questionnaires