Since 1984, over 11,000 children suffering from celiac disease have been registered with the ‘Celiac Disease Clinic’ run by paediatrics gastroenterology division of the Postgraduate Institute of Medical Education and Research (PGIMER).
Celiac disease, an immune reaction to eating gluten, a protein found in wheat, barley and rye, is one of the commonest ailments seen in children reporting to paediatric gastroenterology division.
If you have celiac disease, then eating gluten can damage your small intestine’s lining and lead to malabsorption. There’s no cure but for most people, following a strict gluten-free diet helps manage the symptoms.
“The clinic was established in early 2000s but the registry is being maintained since 1984,” says Dr Sadhna B Lal, professor and head, division of paediatric gastroenterology, PGIMER.
The clinic is run twice a week— on Wednesday and Saturday. “We examine four to five new children suffering from celiac disease on every OPD day and the number of old cases are countless,” she said. It means that the clinic sees around 30 to 40 new cases every month at the Celiac clinic.
“The disease can be genetically determined as well as triggered by environmental causes. This means that the child should have the right genetics, exposure to wheat, then there has to be the environmental trigger to cause the disease. So, children are not born with it but most commonly it presents itself in childhood,” said Dr Sadhna. Usually children in the age group of three to nine years report with symptoms like diarrhoea, anaemia, growth retardation, abdominal pain.
Why are more cases being detected now
“Thirty years ago, doctors used to think that it is a disease of the west. But, we have the same genetics as South Europe. So, we have a genetic predisposition to the disease,” she said.
The doctor said that celiac disease has been prevalent all along, but it is now being uncovered because of increased awareness and availability of better tests, and also due to increased consumption of wheat and as protein characteristics have changed over the centuries.
“Earlier, the wheat wasn’t so toxic, but the modern wheat that has come after World-War II has higher amount of the culprit content that causes celiac disease,” she said.