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Celiac is Diagnosed, but Distorted, on Fox's ''House''; Sensationalized depiction of common autoimmune disease diverts attention from actual warning signs.

AMBLER, Pa. -- Millions watch Fox's popular drama House every week for the fascinating storylines about mysterious illnesses--some of which may hit closer to home than many realize. Celiac, the autoimmune disease marked by a person's intolerance to the food protein gluten, was highlighted in the May 9th episode as a contributing factor in an infant's death and the mother's stomach cancer. Viewers at home weren't told, however, that this condition--portrayed as seemingly rare on the show--actually affects nearly 3 million Americans, and most of the time, the warning signs are as common as bloating and fatigue.

"Celiac is a perfect subject for a show that deals with challenging medical diagnoses," says Alice Bast, executive director and founder of the National Foundation for Celiac Awareness, and a celiac herself. "About 97% of celiacs don't know they have it because they and their doctors misread the warning signs, or because they never present with symptoms, despite the damage the disease is causing to their bodies."

If left untreated, celiac can lead to other autoimmune conditions, malnourishment, fertility complications, and even cancer. There is currently no pharmaceutical or medical treatment for celiac. The only proven way to manage the disease is to adhere to a strict gluten-free diet, which has been shown to alleviate symptoms within weeks.

Bast, who serves on an ad hoc committee formed by the National Institutes of Health, and whose organization is leading a national public awareness campaign, cites bloating, fatigue, constipation, diarrhea, anemia, delayed growth, and unexplained weight loss as common indicators of celiac, and encourages individuals who have experienced these symptoms, particularly over time, to consult a doctor. Bast also notes that celiac is hereditary, so those with a family member who has been diagnosed with celiac should be tested immediately.

A comprehensive guide to celiac, including a downloadable symptom checklist, is available online at www.DoIHaveCeliac.org.

The National Foundation for Celiac Awareness, founded in 2003 and headquartered in Ambler, Pennsylvania, is the only national organization dedicated to raising awareness and funds for research toward a cure for celiac. Visit www.celiaccentral.org for more information.
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Date:May 11, 2006
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