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Connecticut GI/Hartford HealthCare Named Celiac Center of Excellence

April 05, 2021

As partners in providing gastroenterology services across the state, Connecticut GI and Hartford HealthCare recently achieved the designation of a Celiac Disease Center of Excellence from the Society for the Study of Celiac Disease. It is one of only seven in the United States, and the only one between New York and Boston.

The designation comes after providers recognized the need to educate both the general public and potential referring physicians (which can include primary care and specialist providers) to the symptoms that should trigger a test for celiac disease.

The recognition is bestowed on practices that demonstrate a commitment to diagnosing and treating celiac disease through their policies, credentialing, staff training and competencies. Among others with the designation in the U.S. are Harvard University Medical School, Columbia University, University of Chicago and Vanderbilt.

“For us to be part of this group and be recognized by this group, is a reflection of the quality of the care we provide,” said Dr. Jeffrey Gelwan, a gastroenterologist with Hartford HealthCare and Connecticut GI. “And it’s also a great resource for us.”

Celiac disease involves far more than having bloating or diarrhea when gluten is consumed. If left undiagnosed or untreated, it can affect multiple organs including the heart, liver, thyroid, skin and bones and joints. It can be an underlying cause of osteoporosis, miscarriages and fertility issues, It can even lead to certain types of cancer.

“Early diagnosis is key,” said Dr. Gelwan. The challenge is that celiac disease has changed over the last 30 years from a rare condition to one that affects up to 3 percent of all Americans. Its presentation has also changed significantly, and the majority of cases have a range of symptoms including anemia, peripheral neuropathy, and infertility. Today fewer than 45 percent of adult patients have the classic presentation of weight loss and diarrhea.

“Our goal is to capture all the (celiac) patients,” Dr. Gelwan said. “The asymptomatic patients, those with atypical symptoms, those with classic symptoms, as well as those at risk for celiac disease because of either family history or the presence of other associated diseases (diabetes, thyroid disease, etc.).”

Besides having 15 providers across the state with special knowledge of celiac, the team also includes two GI pathologists and two nutritionists who work with the providers and patients on diagnosis and treatment plans. Dr. Gelwan said this gives each patient access to comprehensive care when it comes to treating their disease and alleviating their symptoms.

“Celiac is a chronic disease that results from an inappropriate immune response to the dietary protein gluten,” he said. “In most cases, it’s relatively simple to treat – we remove gluten from the diet. It’s the diagnosis that proves challenging, and that’s what we are focusing on now – educating our patients, educating the referring doctors, and educating our own physicians.”