Celiac Disease Program
What is celiac disease?
Celiac disease is a common autoimmune problem of the intestinal tract that occurs in up to about 1 percent of the entire population, including children. It refers to damage to the intestinal tract that occurs from the ingestion of gluten, which is a group of proteins present in wheat, barley and rye.
The damage to the intestine can have varying, far-reaching effects, including:
- Serious gastrointestinal problems with weight loss and malnutrition
- Mild stomach complaints
- Problems that seem completely unrelated to the child’s intestines (e.g., rashes, headaches, poor growth, arthritis)
Our approach to treatment
The gastrointestinal team at Cohen Children’s is a leading provider of care for children with celiac disease, expertly treating over 300 patients each year. Our doctors have well over 100 years of combined experience in this field.
To establish a diagnosis, we typically use screening blood tests and then confirm the diagnosis with an endoscopic biopsy. If a child is found to have celiac disease, the treatment is an extensive gluten-free diet. (This is recommended even if the child has no obvious symptoms resulting from the intestinal damage, in order to prevent future problems from occurring.) We have multiple pediatric nutritionists on our team who are well-versed in this diet and can help patients of various ages and their families implement it into their lifestyle. We take great care to ensure the diet does not become the defining point of the child’s life, and that they can still enjoy a normal, otherwise healthy life.
After the diet is followed for some time, we follow up with the patient to make sure their specific celiac blood levels are declining to normal and their symptoms have resolved. Besides a biopsy (which we don’t like to use for pediatric patients), celiac blood work is currently the only way to follow up individuals with celiac disease, but it’s very limited in the information it provides. Always raising the standard of health care, we are actively researching how to optimize the follow-up process by working to find more informative testing measures, such as noninvasive urine and stool tests.