Objectives: Prevalence of celiac disease in children is approximately 1%, but most patients remain unrecognized by reason of variable clinical presentation. Undetected patients may have an increased burden of illness and use of health care services because of nonspecific complaints. We investigated these issues prospectively in newly detected patients with celiac disease before and after diagnosis in a large nationwide cohort of children.
Methods: A validated questionnaire was sent to consecutive families whose children had been diagnosed as having celiac disease within 1 year. The survey contained questions about the use of medical consultations, on-demand drugs, vitamins and herbal products, children's absenteeism from day care or school and, parents’ work absenteeism. A follow-up questionnaire was sent after 1 year of receiving a gluten-free diet.
Results: A total of 132 families responded. A total of 44 children were diagnosed because of gastrointestinal and 88 because of extraintestinal symptoms or by risk-group screening. On treatment, outpatient visits to primary health care decreased from a mean of 3.0 to 1.3 visits per year (P < 0.001), the number of hospitalizations from 0.2 to 0.1 (P = 0.008), and antibiotic prescriptions from 1.0 to 0.5/year (P < 0.001). Visits to secondary and tertiary health care increased from 0.6 to 1.4 (P < 0.001), mostly for celiac surveillance. Use of vitamins, micronutrients, and herbal products increased from 7.3 to 10.2 pills per month (P = 0.028).
Conclusions: Implementation of a gluten-free diet resulted in reduced use of health care services and antibiotic prescriptions in children. Our findings support active case-finding and risk-group screening for celiac disease.