Ever wonder why, at the annual physical exam, your primary care doctor doesn’t do a genetic screening for celiac disease?

Since celiac disease takes an average of nine years to be diagnosed in a symptomatic person, and it is one of the most misdiagnosed medical conditions, one must wonder why genetic testing for celiac disease is not a standard part of the routine physical.

It’s estimated that one in 133 Americans has celiac. That’s pretty common.

“Genetic testing is best used to rule out celiac disease,” says Stefano Guandalini, MD, Founder and Medical Director, The University of Chicago Celiac Disease Center.

“About 30 percent of the population carry the genes related to celiac disease; only 5% of that group ever develop the disease.

“Genetic testing can be useful in at-risk populations, like first-degree relatives of someone with biopsy-diagnosed celiac disease.

“In those cases, if the relatives have the gene/s they should be screened with an antibody blood test every three years or immediately upon symptoms.

“If they don’t have the gene/s, then they never have to worry about developing the disease and no further testing is needed.”

Not having the gene(s) for celiac disease does not mean that any strange symptoms that you have can’t possibly be caused by an intolerance to gluten.

In fact, a person can have the so-called gluten sensitivity, with or without having the genetic predisposition to Celiac Disease.

“This condition (gluten sensitivity), whose prevalence is unknown, typically causes gastrointestinal symptoms such as those from irritable bowel syndrome,” says Dr. Guandalini.

However, gluten sensitivity does not cause the potential harm to the body, that celiac disease does, such as brittle bones, neurological problems and intestinal cancer.

The only known treatment for CD is to banish all gluten from one’s diet … for life … and this means not even one occasional wheat cracker, not even a crumb.

This is why people with CD, when going gluten-free, won’t even eat food that was prepped on the same cutting board or even counter, that gluten-containing foods were, unless the surface area is thoroughly cleansed.

They can’t even eat fruit from a plastic bag that had a gluten-containing sandwich in it; there’s bound to be a few crumbs in the plastic that will “contaminate” the fruit.

In celiac disease, the body’s immune system will be activated by one tiny crumb. It is this immune response that damages the body, whether the patient experiences symptoms or not.

Though genetic testing for celiac disease is not a standard part of the routine annual physical, nothing should stop you from requesting a blood test for this condition.

However, having the blood test is worthless if you don’t have the gene for CD.

So if you want annual testing for celiac disease, you should first find out if you even have the gene. This can be done via an independent lab.

Dr. Guandalini’s scientific and professional career has focused on celiac disease. He’s also professor of pediatrics, chief, Section of Gastroenterology, The University of Chicago Comer Children’s Hospital. 
Lorra Garrick has been covering medical, fitness and cybersecurity topics for many years, having written thousands of articles for print magazines and websites, including as a ghostwriter. She’s also a former ACE-certified personal trainer.
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