Background: Celiac disease (CD) is one of the most common lifelong disorders in western countries. However, most cases remain currently undiagnosed in North America, mostly due to poor awareness of CD by primary care physicians.
Objectives: The aims of this study were (a) to determine whether an active case-finding strategy in primary care could increase the frequency of CD diagnosis and (b) to determine the most common clinical presentations of the condition.
Methods: This was a multicenter, prospective study involving adult subjects during the years 2002-2004, attending one of the participating practices. All individuals with symptoms or conditions known to be associated with CD were tested for immunoglobulin A anti-transglutaminase (tTG) antibodies, and those with elevated anti-tTG were subsequently tested for IgA antiendomysial antibodies (EMA). All subjects who were positive for EMA were advised to undergo an intestinal biopsy and HLA typing.
Results: The study group included 737 women and 239 men, with a median age of 54.3 yr. A positive anti-tTG test was found in 30 out of 976 investigated subjects (3.07%, 95% CI 1.98-4.16). CD was diagnosed in 22 patients (18 women, 4 men). The most frequent reasons for CD screening in these 22 cases were bloating (12/22), thyroid disease (11/22), irritable bowel syndrome (7/22), unexplained chronic diarrhea (6/22), chronic fatigue (5/22), and constipation (4/22). The prevalence of CD in the serologically screened sample was 2.25% (95% CI 1.32-3.18). The diagnostic rate was low at baseline (0.27 cases per thousand visits, 95% CI 0.13-0.41) and significantly increased to 11.6 per thousand visits (95% CI 6.8-16.4, P < 0.001) following active screening implementation.
Conclusions: This study demonstrates that an active case-finding strategy in the primary care setting is an effective means to improve the diagnostic rate of CD in North America.