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Celiac Disease Underdiagnosed?

Only 5% of Patients Correctly Diagnosed With Gluten Intolerance

New Pill for Celiac Disease

Once celiac disease is diagnosed, "the only effective treatment is a lifelong gluten-free diet. But gluten is so ubiquitous that it is difficult to completely get it out of the diet," Green says.

Inadvertent consumption of gluten is the major causes of symptoms in people who know they have the disease, he says.

That's why researchers are closely watching early studies of two new treatments that may help protect patients with celiac disease from exposure to gluten.

The first study looked at an experimental pill called larazotide, also known as AT-1001. It blocks gluten from crossing into the intestinal lining where it can cause harm.

The study of 69 patients showed that those who were given gluten and larazotide had less nausea, bloating, and other symptoms of celiac disease than those who were given gluten and a placebo. However, the drug did no better than placebo at preventing gluten from leaking through the intestine lining over the 14 days of active treatment, which was the study's primary goal.

"What was surprising was that leakage improved in all patients over the first week," says Daniel Leffler, MD, clinical research director at the Celiac Disease Center at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston.

"It shows that just being in a study helps people practice healthier habits and improves outcomes," he tells WebMD.

Also, there were some signs that the drug helped to curb gluten leakage in the weeks after treatment ended, "suggesting the drug has some efficacy," he says.

"The results are somewhat promising," Leffler says, adding that the researchers are proceeding with a larger, longer trial.

The study was funded by Alba Therapeutics, maker of the drug.

Yet another treatment that shows promise is a pill that contains two enzymes engineered to digest gluten, Green says.

The very fact that the pharmaceutical industry is becoming interested in celiac disease is "exciting for patients," he says. "Probably one of the reasons that condition is so underdiagnosed is because there is no medication and doctors aren't being educated."

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