If you worry that you might be gluten sensitive or perhaps even have celiac disease, then your doctor might conduct one of several tests: a blood test to look for gluten antibodies and vitamin and mineral deficiencies; a stool test to check for malabsorption; an endoscopy through the throat to examine the intestine; or a biopsy of the small intestine to check for inflammation and tissue damage.
If you undergo that last diagnostic test, you might want to be aware of recent criticism that such biopsies are usually not thorough enough. A study published in the July 2011 issue of Gastrointestinal Endoscopy said, the majority of patients do not undergo the recommended four biopsies of tissue samples, which possibly shortchanges them from a timely diagnosis and a solution to their digestive problems.
Researchers used a national database of biopsy specimens from Caris Life Sciences in Irving, Texas, giving them access to more than 100,000 patients who had had a biopsy of the small intestine. Only 35 percent of the patients had four tissue samples taken; in most cases the patients had two samples taken.
“Celiac disease can affect the small intestine in a patchy distribution, and so just one or two biopsy samples could potentially miss the evidence of the disease,” the study’s lead author, Dr. Benjamin Lebwohl, said in the July 6, 2011, ScienceDaily.
Lebwohl, a gastroenterologist at the Celiac Disease Center at Columbia University Medical Center in New York, was part of a team who studied the celiac disease diagnosis rate among patients who had submitted four specimens and compared that to the diagnosis rate when fewer specimens were involved. Adhering to the professional guideline, four specimens more than doubled the rate of diagnosis of celiac disease.
Even though a biopsy is more invasive than other diagnostic tools for celiac disease, the process of taking four samples instead of two requires only an extra minute during endoscopy, said Lebwohl.