Celiac Disease | Diagnosis & Treatments

How is celiac disease diagnosed?

The first step in helping your child is forming an accurate and complete diagnosis. Celiac disease can sometimes be challenging to diagnose, because doctors often look for expected gastrointestinal symptoms, like diarrhea, abdominal pain, and weight loss. That’s why it’s important that your child be seen by specialists who have a lot of experience with the different ways that celiac disease can appear in kids.

Diagnosis most often begins with a blood test. While these tests are generally quite accurate, sometimes a person who has celiac disease will test negative, and someone who does not have it will test positive, so it can’t say for sure.

After the blood test, your child may be asked to come in for an endoscopy, during which the physician will take a few small biopsies. This is the most important test to see whether your child has celiac disease, because it will allow the doctor to examine the villi. For the endoscopy, your child will be given medicine to make her feel relaxed and sleepy, and will receive anesthesia.

Remember, don’t put your child on a gluten free diet before a doctor diagnoses your child with celiac disease, since the doctors will be checking to see whether gluten damages the lining of the intestine. This will allow the tests to be as effective and informative as possible.

What are the treatment options for celiac disease?

The only treatment for celiac disease is strict adherence to a gluten free diet for life. This will allow your child's intestines to heal, and, in almost all cases, eliminate the symptoms related to celiac disease.

A registered dietician can meet with you and your family to discuss with you everything you need to know about a gluten free diet, including:

  • which foods are safe
  • which foods should be avoided
  • how to read a food label
  • the “real meaning” behind some ingredients
  • what to do when you're unsure whether a food is safe
  • how to make sure your child's gluten free diet is nutritionally balanced

What if the gluten free diet doesn't work for my child?

A small number of children with celiac disease don't see improvement on a gluten free diet. This could be because:

  • the child hasn't been adhering to the gluten free diet
  • there is another condition that is affecting the intestine
  • the child has been inadvertently consuming gluten in some form
  • (in extremely rare cases) the disease isn’t responding to diet alone and medications, such as steroids or immunosuppressants, are needed