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Celiac Blood Test: Helping to Diagnose Celiac Disease

written by: Leigh A. Zaykoski • edited by: Leigh A. Zaykoski • updated: 1/27/2009

The celiac blood test can help doctors determine if digestive symptoms such as frequent diarrhea and chronic abdominal pain are caused by celiac disease, an intolerance to gluten that causes the body to destroy the villi responsible for nutrient absorption.

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    Celiac disease is a condition that can damage the small intestine and prevent people from being able to absorb important nutrients from the foods they eat. The celiac blood test is a laboratory test that is used to help doctors determine if a patient's symptoms could be caused by the presence of celiac disease. This test can help doctors diagnose celiac disease so that treatment can be started and patients's lives can be improved.

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    Celiac Disease Defined

    Celiac disease is a condition in which people are unable to tolerate the protein gluten, which is found in grains such as wheat and barley. Most people ingest gluten through eating and drinking, but gluten can also be present in medications and cosmetics. When people who do not have celiac disease ingest gluten, there is no problem with digesting it. When celiac disease sufferers ingest gluten, the body sees it as a foreign substance and actually attacks the finger-like projections of the small in testing (called villi). The villi are responsible for the absorption of nutrients, so damage to the villi from celiac disease can lead to difficulty in absorbing nutrients. The celiac blood test can be used to determine if auto-antibodies related to gluten are present.

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    Symptoms That Prompt the Celiac Blood Test

    Physicians may order the celiac blood test if their patients exhibit any symptoms of celiac disease. Digestive symptoms can include abdominal pain, frequent diarrhea, vomiting, and weight loss. Adults usually have other symptoms suggestive of celiac disease, such as fatigue, seizures, and iron-deficiency anemia that cannot be explained.

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    Celiac Blood Test Procedure

    The celiac blood test is performed by drawing a sample of blood from a patient's arm. This sample is then analyzed for the presence of high levels of anti-tissue transglutaminase antibodies. This can indicate that the body is attacking the villi of the small intestine when gluten is ingested. People should not stop eating foods containing gluten prior to undergoing the celiac blood test, as this could cause the test to yield a false negative. If the celiac blood test is negative, other tests can be done to determine if celiac disease is present. Once the disease is diagnosed, it can be managed by working with a dietitian or nutritionist to develop a gluten-free diet.

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    Celiac Blood Test Reference Materials

    National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse. "Celiac Disease." Retrieved January 27, 2009. Available: NDDIC "Celiac Disease"