Celiac symptoms in children

Celiac symptoms in children

Celiac-disease-symptoms-in-children1Are there common childhood symptoms in undiagnosed children with celiac disease? Do boys and girls present with different signs and experience a different set of symptoms? The answer to all three of these questions is YES. If you think your child is at risk for celiac disease read on.

Celiac disease is the most under diagnosed, chronic pediatric disease in the U.S. affecting one in 100 children and one in 22 for those associated with risk factors. Amazingly, 95% of all cases are undiagnosed. The disease is a genetic intolerance to gluten, a protein found in wheat, rye, and barley. When a person with this disease eats these foods, gluten triggers the immune system to attack the lining of the small intestine. The reaction causes inflammation and interferes with the digestion of vitamins, minerals and other vital nutrients. Left untreated, the disease can cause malnutrition, diabetes, cancer or other autoimmune deficiency disorders. Timely diagnosis of celiac disease is essential to treating and preventing its complications.

Research has shown that the most common childhood symptoms in undiagnosed celiac disease are a combination of persistent diarrhea and failure to thrive. Of special concern are boys with short stature and girls with recurring canker sores. Other common symptoms and conditions to be noted include anemia and skin rashes. Research has shown that when a child presents with the following two combinations of symptoms, they are at an increased risk for the disease:

  1. anemia or fatigue with unexplained mood swings, depression, anxiety or stress;
  2. anemia or fatigue with short stature;
  3. abdominal gas or bloating with diarrhea or constipation; and
  4. older children with unexplained headaches, joint aches, or body aches.

In addition, there appears to be subsets of health symptoms that when present together, increase a child’s risk for celiac disease:

  1. older girls with unexplained body aches, and canker sores;
  2. young children with gastrointestinal pain, allergies or asthma, and above normal absenteeism;
  3. children with anemia or fatigue, unexplained mood swings, depression, anxiety or stress, and skin rashes;
  4. boys with allergies or asthma, and cognitive learning problems.

Tomorrow we will post 15 questions about the general health of your child that can determine if your child is at high risk for celiac disease. The scoring key will be posted too.

How accurate is the screening questionnaire?

Research has concluded that the questionnaire is 87% effective in identifying children at high risk for celiac disease. However, the questionnaire results are not a medical diagnosis and the screening program does not replace a comprehensive exam by a trained physician.

Does the questionnaire recommend treatment?

No, the celiac disease screening questionnaire only identifies children who are at high risk for the disease.  If a child is identified at high risk it is recommended you consult a local and knowledgeable health care professional for further medical evaluation and testing.


Pillow, C. A Pilot Study: Celiac Disease Screening of High Risk Students. Texas Woman’s University, March 2008.

North American Society of Pediatric Gastroenterology, Hepatology and Nutrition guidelines for the diagnosis and treatment of celiac disease in children.

Information about local chapters of the Gluten Intolerance Group, a national celiac disease support group, can be retrieved at Gluten.net.

General information can be retrieved from Columbia University Celiac Disease Center.

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Vancouver Health Coach