Purpose of review: There has been an explosion in knowledge about celiac disease (CD) in the last decade based on the availability of serologic screening tests and the elucidation of some of the important disease susceptibility genes. What has been discovered is that CD is among the most common inherited diseases with a worldwide prevalence of almost 1% of the population. Also, there has been a tremendous expansion of the possible clinical presentations in patients with CD, many of them predominantly or even exclusively extraintestinal. Over the last year, both the North American Society of Pediatric Gastroenterology and Nutrition, and the NIH, through the mechanism of a consensus development conference held in May 2004, have published guidelines outlining the current state of knowledge and the areas where more research is needed. Recent findings: This review will stress the most recent findings in CD in the areas of genetics, pathogenesis, epidemiology, screening and diagnosis, and natural history. It will stress the importance of HLA DQ2 and DQ8 as disease susceptibility genes, and the interaction of the environmental triggers (gliadins and glutenins) with these gene products to trigger the immunologic response in the gut that is responsible for the pattern of injury. Recent reports that stress the importance of screening high-risk groups (i.e. siblings of index cases and first degree relatives, patients with Type I diabetes, patients with Downs syndrome, patients with IgA deficiency) will be highlighted. The identification of the most sensitive and specific screening tests will be summarized with an explanation of special situations that affect the interpretation of these tests. Finally, the long-term morbidities associated with CD will be characterized supporting the case for early diagnosis and treatment. Summary: The implications of these recent findings are of tremendous importance for both pediatricians and internists. Screening of high-risk groups, and of patients with the common symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome, iron deficiency anemia, unexplained arthritis, and even chronic elevations of aminotransferases is becoming the accepted standard of practice. Much research remains to be done to further refine our understanding of CD, and to devise more effective strategies for treatment, compliance, and prevention of long-term complications.
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