Should Pediatric Patients with Celiac Disease Be Screened for Low Bone Mineral Density?

A recent retrospective study (J Webster et al. Clin Gastroenterol Hepatol 2019; 17: 1509-14) with 673 children with newly diagnosed (biopsy-proven) celiac disease (CD) (median age 10.6 y) evaluated DXA studies at time of diagnosis.

Key findings:

  • Approximately 7% (n=46) had a low lumbar spine areal bone mineral density (aBMD) z-score (less than -2)
  • Of those with abnormal aBMDs, 18 had repeat studies.  11 of 18 normalized after institution of dietary management. Mean time for repeat DXA was 2.3 years
  • Of note, mean BMI z-score at time of repeat DXA was 0.005 (this includes 90 who had followup studies after a normal baseline DXA).
  • Low body mass index (BMI) with z-score of -0.4 identified a >10% risk of an abnormal aBMD

The authors acknowledge than DXA screening is controversial.  The current study’s strength is its large size.  Limitations include the inability to correlate with clinical factors including adherence to a gluten-free diet.

My take:

  1. Based on this study, it is likely that only 2-3% of pediatric patients with celiac disease will have a persistently abnormal DXA after institution of a gluten free diet for 2 years; it is likely that even more will improve with time if receiving appropriate dietary treatment.
  2. I am not likely to recommend obtaining a baseline DXA study in pediatric patients with newly diagnosed celiac disease; the treatment for low bone mineral density in the setting of celiac disease is the same as for all children with celiac disease.  If one were inclined to look for low BMD, optimal timing would likely be AFTER being adherent on a gluten free diet for at least two years particularly in those who had low BMI at presentation.

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Disclaimer: These blog posts are for educational purposes only. Specific dosing of medications/diets (along with potential adverse effects) should be confirmed by prescribing physician/nutritionist.  This content is not a substitute for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment provided by a qualified healthcare provider. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a condition


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