How Height and Weight Could Expose Celiac Disease

Celiac disease in kids may be identified through height and weight measurements

Break out the tape measure and scale. Measurements like height and weight could help doctors spot celiac disease earlier in kids.

A new study found that growth screening could be used for early identification of celiac disease in children.

"Prior to diagnosis, growth faltered in most children with celiac disease," wrote lead study author Antti Saari, MD, of the University of Eastern Finland in Kuopio, and colleagues. "These children could have been detected several years earlier by a well-established growth-monitoring program."

Celiac disease (CD) is caused by an immune response to gluten and similar molecules. Gluten is found in grains like wheat, barley and rye. Symptoms include stomach pain, rash and slowed growth.

Doctors use blood tests to screen for CD. Currently, universal blood testing is not recommended. It is estimated that only 10 to 30 percent of children with CD are diagnosed, according to Dr. Saari and team.

In children, CD often causes growth problems. Doctors routinely measure children's growth during office visits. Poor growth is often a sign that further testing is needed.

Dr. Saari and team studied the growth patterns of more than 51,000 Finnish children. They then compared the growth patterns of 177 children with CD to those of the healthy children.

These researchers identified growth criteria that set apart those with CD. The criteria were determined by complex calculations made from growth data over time, such as height, weight and parental height. A computer program would likely be necessary to assess a child's growth with these guidelines, Dr. Saari and team noted.

These researchers said that using these criteria would have led to earlier diagnoses for these children. Early diagnosis is beneficial to minimize long-term growth problems and prevent unnecessary stomach pain.

The next step will be to test the guidelines in a clinical setting, Dr. Saari and team noted.

This study was published online March 2 in JAMA Pediatrics.

The Finnish Funding Agency for Technology, the National Graduate School of Clinical Investigation, Kuopio University Hospital, the Sigrid Juselius Foundation, the Foundation for Pediatric Research, the Academy of Finland and the Folkhälsan Research Foundation funded this research. Dr. Saari and colleagues declared no conflicts of interest.