print Print

Serologic Diagnosis of Celiac Disease

Policy Number: MP-161

Latest Review Date: June 2019

Category: Laboratory

Policy Grade: Effective 1/1/14: Active policy but no longer scheduled for regular literature reviews or updates

Description of Procedure or Service:

Celiac disease is currently diagnosed by a positive small intestinal biopsy with consistent history and serologic results. A variety of serologic tests are available; some may be more accurate than others or more appropriate for use in certain patient populations.

Celiac disease (CD), celiac sprue, or gluten-sensitive enteropathy is a life-long, chronic malabsorption, inflammatory condition of the gastrointestinal tract that affects the small intestine in genetically susceptible individuals. CD is caused by exposure to dietary gluten in genetically pre-disposed individuals. The condition is characterized by villous atrophy, a lowering of the villous height to crypt depth ratio (normal, 3-5:1), an increase in intraepithelial lymphocytes (normal, 10-30 per 100 epithelial cells), and extensive surface cell damage and infiltration of the lamina propria with inflammatory cells. There are a wide range of presentations from asymptomatic to fatigue and vague abdominal symptoms, weight loss and diarrhea to frank malabsorption with steatorrhea. Both the symptoms and abnormal small intestinal mucosal morphology resolve with removal of gluten from the diet.

Because the symptoms of celiac disease are nonspecific they are often overlooked. In addition, the disease may develop at any time in life, from infancy to very old age. In children, the disease typically presents between six and 24 months, following weaning, and is characterized by abnormal stools, poor appetite, and irritability. In adults, diarrhea is the main presenting symptom, but presenting symptoms may be entirely nonspecific, such as anemia or infertility. Typical or classical celiac disease refers to the presence of malabsorption, while atypical celiac disease consists primarily of extra intestinal manifestations. Finally, silent celiac disease may be entirely asymptomatic and discovered only on biopsy or with serologic testing. For example, population-based screening serologic surveys suggest a prevalence of one in 250–500 in most countries, including the United States. Celiac disease is an HLA-associated disease and, therefore, there is a hereditary component to the disease. Celiac disease is associated with a number of other conditions, including Type 1 diabetes mellitus, rheumatoid arthritis, and primary biliary cirrhosis.

Given the nonspecific nature of the symptoms, definitive diagnosis has been based on the results of small intestinal biopsies showing a flattened intestinal mucosa in association with an inflammatory infiltrate. Diagnostic criteria were first established in 1969 by the European Society of Pediatric Gastroenterology, Hepatology and Nutrition (ESPGHN) and consisted of a series of three intestinal biopsies: one at diagnosis, one after institution of a gluten-free diet, and the third after a repeat gluten challenge. This cumbersome method of diagnosis was revised in 1990 by simplifying the diagnostic criteria to a positive biopsy at presentation in conjunction with consistent history and serologic results, followed by a clinical response to a gluten-free diet. Zianin et al reports that time-course of t-TG serology in the community fluctuates in one third of celiac disease patients suggesting inconstant adherence to gluten-free diet and need of follow-up strategy. Periodical serological and clinical follow-up is a viable and efficacious strategy to promote adherence to gluten-free diet as inferred from time-course of t-TG serology.

While a positive biopsy result is still considered the gold standard for diagnosis, the availability of highly sensitive and specific serologic markers greatly facilitates the diagnosis of CD. These serologic tests are used to evaluate patients with suspected disease, monitor adherence and response to a gluten-free diet, and screen patient with atypical, extra intestinal manifestations. Serologic diagnosis is focused on the detection of IgA antibodies. In the presence of gluten, the intestine produces large amounts of antibodies that are secreted intraluminally, but spill over into the serum, where they can be detected. Antigliadin (AGA), antiendomysial, and tissue transglutaminase IgA antibodies have been most extensively studied. Gliadin is a component of gluten, while antiendomysial antibodies (referred to as EMA) are directed against the reticulin network surrounding the smooth muscle bundles of the gastrointestinal tract. Tissue transglutaminase is the enzyme responsible for deamidation of gliadin in the lamina propria, increasing its immunogenicity and allowing interaction with HLA-DQ2 or HLA-DQ8.

Antigliadin antibodies (AGA) can be detected using an ELISA test. EMA antibodies were originally detected using an immunofluorescence technique using either primate esophagus or human umbilical cord as a substrate. More recently the EMA antigen has been identified as the tissue enzyme tissue transglutaminase (tTG), allowing the development of an ELISA-based test or a dot blot procedure. The dot blot test potentially can be performed in the physician’s office. A total of 2% to 3% of patients with celiac disease are IgA deficient; in these patients, IgG antibodies are assayed instead of IgA antibodies.

The newest serologic tests are deamidated gliadin peptide (DGP) antibody tests. Deamidation refers to a chemical reaction in which an amide group is removed from an organic compound. Deamidated gliadin is produced when gluten undergoes acid or enzymatic treatment so that tissue transglutaminase converts some of the glutamines to glutamic acid. Deamidated peptides are believed to be more specific to celiac disease than native peptides. Some of the DGP antibody tests are able to assay both IgA and IgG, so they can be used in patients regardless of IgA deficiency status.

For HLA-DQ2 and HLA-DQ8 genetic testing, refer to medical policy # 545-Human Leukocyte Antigen (HLA) Testing for Celiac Disease.


Serologic measurement of antigliadin (AGA), antiendomysial or tissue transglutaminase antibodies may be considered medically necessary when:

  • Performed to evaluate patients with signs or symptoms suggestive of celiac disease; OR
  • Performed to monitor patient’s adherence and response to a gluten-free diet

Serologic measurement of deamidated gliadin peptide antibodies (DGP) is considered not medically necessary and investigational in patients with signs or symptoms suggestive of celiac disease.

Screening of asymptomatic, at risk patient groups, for celiac disease using one or more serologic IgA or IgG measures is considered not medically necessary and investigational.

Population screening for celiac disease using one or more serologic IgA or IgG measures is considered not medically necessary and investigational.

Key Points:

The most recent literature update was performed through June 10, 2019.

The age of presentation and prevalence of celiac disease has been altered over the last 30-40 years. The condition was previously thought to be a disease of childhood. However, adult presentation is increasingly common and celiac sprue can occur at any age.

The prevalence in different countries ranges widely. Several European studies have recently revealed values between 1:152 to 1:300 in countries that include Ireland, the United Kingdom, Italy, and Sweden. Studies from the United States have suggested that the condition affected 1:6000; however, a recent study involving serologic screening of blood donors suggested that this figure is more likely to be 1:250. Most researchers place the prevalence in the United States at 1:1000.

Serologic evaluation of celiac disease has been most widely researched in patients with nonspecific signs and symptoms of disease. In this setting, the negative predictive value is likely to be most informative, as these patients can forego a confirmatory biopsy.

Serologic Diagnosis In Individuals With Signs Or Symptoms Suggestive Of Celiac Disease

National guidelines and position statements agree that serologic testing is the first step in diagnosing celiac disease and that the IgA antibody to human recombinant tissue transglutaminase (tTG) test is recommended. They all state that the IgA antibody to antiendomysium antibody (EMA) test has similar sensitivity and specificity to the tTG IgA test, but two of the national organizations mention that the EMA test is more prone to interpretation error. For individuals with known selective IgA deficiency, testing with tTG IgG and/or EMA IgG is recommended. None of these guidelines and statements mentioned the newer deamidated gliadin peptide (DGP) antibody tests.

Several systematic reviews have evaluated the accuracy of commercially available serologic tests for celiac disease. Lewis and Scott published a meta-analysis of studies in which both the tTG antibody tests and deamidated gliadin peptide (DGP) tests were performed. A total of 11 studies with 937 patients with untreated celiac disease and 1,328 individuals without known celiac disease were included. Among the controls, 636 had duodenal biopsy to exclude the presence of celiac disease Pooled sensitivity for diagnosing celiac disease was significantly lower (p<0.001) using DGP IgA tests (87.8%, 95% confidence interval [CI]: 85.6-89.9%) than tTG IgA tests (93%, 95% CI: 91.2-94.5%). The pooled specificity, 94.1% for DGP IgA and 96.5% for tTG IgA did not differ significantly. The meta-analysis did not present findings separately for individuals with and without known celiac disease. The authors concluded that, although both tests performed well, the tissue tTG antibody test out-performed the DGP antibody test and remains the serologic test of choice for diagnosing and/or excluding the diagnosis of celiac disease.

In a review of tests in children and adults published by Hill articles were sought using biopsy examination as the gold standard. Of 27 studies on tTG IgA, sensitivities of 90% or more in 16 of 27 studies (range 54–100%), and specificities of 95% or more in 18 of 27 studies (range 79–100%) were reported. EMA IgA had sensitivities of 90% or more in 27 of 32 studies (range 86–100%) and specificities of 95% or more in all but one of 32 studies (range 90–100%). Both tests appeared to have comparable sensitivity and specificity in adults and children, although one study found the EMA IgA test less reliable in children (sensitivity 90% and specificity 98%). Hill also noted that no combination of tests was better than a single test using either EMA or tTG but that antigliadin antibody (AGA) IgA was less suitable due to generally lower test operating characteristics (sensitivity, specificity) compared to EMA IgA or tTG IgA. A meta-analysis of 32 studies of tTG antibody tests by Zintzaras and Germenis found pooled sensitivity for human tTG tests to be 94% with pooled specificities of 95% and 94% for recombinant and purified human ELISA assays, respectively. Guinea pig tTG had lower sensitivity and specificity than either human substrate sources.

Several head-to-head comparisons of serologic tests for celiac disease are described below. A study published by Naiyer and colleagues compared the sensitivity of four tTG IgA assays that are commercially available in the United States and three deamidated gliadin peptide kits. The tTG IgA kits that were reviewed include: the Inova tTG IgA, the Binding Site (recombinant human Ag), the Eurospital (recombinant human Ag) and the Immco (recombinant human Ag). The three DGP kits included were: the Inova (antigliadin antibody [AGA] II-IgA), the Inova (AGA II-IgG), and the Inova (AGA-II IgA + IgG). The study used frozen serum samples from patients who were evaluated for celiac disease at a single center in the United States Group one (n=28) consisted of adult patients who had newly diagnosed (confirmed by biopsy) celiac disease. Group two (n=54) were patients with celiac disease who had been on a gluten-free diet for two to 87 months. There were two control groups. Group three (n=40) were healthy adults (normal controls) and Group four (n=57) were adult patients with hepatitis C or Crohn’s disease (disease controls). Two patients from Group one were excluded from the analysis because biopsy results were not available. Using the manufacturer’s recommended cutoff values, sensitivity of the four tTG IgA kits in patients with active celiac disease compared to disease controls ranged from 85.7% to 96.4%. The Immco kit had a specificity of 75.9%, and the other three had specificities over 90% (93.1% for the Binding Site test and 98.3% each for the Inova and Eurospital tests). There were no statistically significant differences among tests. The DGP kits had sensitivities ranging from 71.4% to 82.1% and specificities ranging from 94.8% to 98.3%, and there were no significant differences among the DGP kits. In receiver operating curve (ROC) analysis, there was a statistically significant difference between the areas under the curve (AUC) when two tTG IgA tests (by Inova and Eurospital) were compared to the Inova DGP-IgA test, favoring the tTG IgA tests. The authors mentioned that there may have been some selection bias favoring the tTG IgA tests; 23 out of 28 patients in Group one had initially been diagnosed with tTG IgA tests.

Vermeersch and colleagues published a prospective study, conducted in Belgium, which compared four commercially available DGP assays and other serologic assays including three tTG IgA tests. Tests included DGP IgG assays by four companies, Euroimmun, Inova, Phadia, and The Binding Site, and IgA tests by BioRad, Phadia, and Genesis. Patients undergoing serologic tests and intestinal biopsies for symptoms of celiac disease were identified retrospectively. The sample consisted of 86 newly diagnosed celiac disease patients and 741 patients not found to have celiac disease. IgA tTG tests had been done at the time of patient presentation; other tests were performed on stored serum samples. Using cutoffs recommended by the manufacturer, the sensitivity of the four DGP IgG tests ranged from 77% to 84% and the specificity from 97% to 99%. The sensitivity of the tTG IgA tests ranged from 84% to 88%, and the specificity ranged from 92% to 98%. Overall, the diagnostic performance of the four DGP tests was comparable to the three IgG tests.

Another prospective study was published in by Sugai and colleagues; data were collected in Argentina. They conducted serology testing and duodenal biopsy in 679 adults; 161 considered high-risk (suspected but undiagnosed celiac disease) and 518 at low-risk for celiac disease (referred for routine upper gastrointestinal (GI) tract endoscopy due to non-specific symptoms not primarily related to celiac disease). The following data correspond to a cutoff of 20 U/mL for indicating a positive test. In the high-risk population, the sensitivity and specificity of the tTG IgA test was 95.2% and 97.9%, respectively. The sensitivity and specificity of the DGP IgA test was 98.4% and 92.7%, respectively. Corresponding percentages for the DGP IgG test were 95.2% and 100%, respectively. Using ROC analysis and a cutoff of 20 U/mL, the AUC was 0.997 for the tTG IgA test, 0.995 for the DGP IgA test, and 0.989 for the DGP IgG test. A combined tTG and DGP test had a sensitivity of 100%, a specificity of 92.8%, and the AUC in ROC analysis was 0.999. In the low-risk population, sensitivities of the tTG, IgA, DGP IgA, and DGP IgG tests were 76.5%, 82.3% and 70.6%, respectively, and the specificities were 97.4%, 96.2%, and 99.0%, respectively.

Section Summary

Both tTG and EMA serologies show high accuracy for the diagnosis of celiac disease. Systematic reviews have estimated the sensitivity of these tests to be in the 85-95% range, and the specificity in the mid-90s. tTG may have a slightly higher sensitivity and may be less prone to interpretation error, and as a result, is often recommended as the initial serologic test. EMA may have a higher specificity than tTG and is often used as a second or confirmatory serologic test. Anti-gliadin antibodies have somewhat less accuracy and probably offer limited utility in addition to tTG and EMA.

Serologic Testing In Young Children With Signs And Symptoms Of Celiac Disease

A number of studies have suggested different patterns of serologic positivity in young children with celiac disease. As a result, there has been a substantial amount of research in this area in attempts to define the optimal serologic tests for this age group. Numerous studies have compared the diagnostic accuracy of various serologic tests in this population compared to the gold standard of intestinal biopsy. These studies have not reported consistent data on the accuracy of different serologic tests. A representative sample of the available studies is reviewed below.

A study by Lagerqvist and colleagues in Sweden investigated the optimal serologic test for younger children. This study used data from a population-based registry of children diagnosed with biopsy-confirmed celiac disease. A total of 430 children with celiac disease were included; two were then excluded because they had IgA deficiency, leaving 428 children in the analysis. The mean age at diagnosis was 16 months (range 7.5 months to 14 years); 327 (76%) were younger than two years at diagnosis. Two control groups were used; a disease control group consisting of 133 children admitted to the hospital on suspicion of having celiac disease but who had a negative biopsy. Four were excluded due to IgA deficiency, and 128 were included in the analysis. There was also a healthy control group of 87 children; no biopsies were performed on children in this group. In children younger than 18 months, the sensitivity of IgA antibodies against gliadin (AGA IgA) was 97% (95% CI: 94-99%), which was significantly higher than either the tTG IgA test with a sensitivity of 83% (78-88%) or the EMA IgA test, which also had a sensitivity of 83% (95% CI: 78-87%). The specificity of the AGA IgA test in the under 18 month’s group was 88% (95% CI: 73-97%). This was lower (statistical significance not reported) than the tTG IgA (100%, 95% CI: 90-100%) and the EMA IgA (97%, 95% CI: 85-100%). Combining AGA IgA and tTG IgA in children under 18 months resulted in a sensitivity of 98% (when at least one of the tests was positive). The specificity of the combined test was not reported. In children 18 months or older, performance of both the tTG IgA and EMA IgA tests was better than the AGA IgA. The sensitivity of the AGA IgA test in the older age group was significantly lower (94%) than either of the other two tests, each of which had a sensitivity of 99%. Findings of this study support the policy statement that serologic measurement of antigliadin antibodies (AGA) may be considered medically necessary in children younger than 18 months of age.

A multicenter study from France evaluated whether AGA serology offered additional diagnostic accuracy when added to tTG and EMA. A total of 4,122 children were tested for celiac disease serology, and 397 had at least one positive serology with tTG, EMA, and AGA. Of these, 312 (79%) were positive for tTG, EMA, or both. There were 85 patients who were negative for both tTG and EMA, but positive for AGA. Of these 85 patients, clinical information was available for 62. Twenty-nine of the 62 children were considered to have other disorders, and a biopsy was not undertaken. An intestinal biopsy was performed in 33 patients, and only five of these were found to have celiac disease. These data suggest that AGA has limited utility in patients who are negative for tTG and EMA. A small number of additional cases of celiac disease may be identified, but the vast majority of individuals will have other disorders. Use of AGA may lead to a large number of unnecessary endoscopies with biopsy.

Panetta et al evaluated the accuracy of tTG in 169 children younger than two years-old. All patients had symptoms suggestive of celiac disease and had undergone biopsy. A total of 108 children showed biopsy evidence of celiac disease and 47 did not. At a cutoff level of 8 AU/mL, the sensitivity and specificity were 96% (95% CI: 91-99%) and 91% (95% CI: 80-98%); at a cutoff of 16 AU/mL the sensitivity and specificity were 79% (95% CI: 70-86%) and 100% (95% CI: 92-100%) – all respectively. These results suggest that the accuracy of tTG in young children is similar to that seen for older individuals.

Mubarak et al performed serologic testing in 212 children who had undergone a biopsy for workup of celiac disease, 41 of whom were younger than two years-old. Two commercial kits were used to test for deamidated gliadin peptides (DGPs), using both IgG- and IgA-based tests. The positive and negative predictive values were generally fairly high, ranging from 74-91%. These values were in the same range as tTG and EMA serologies, which had predictive values ranging from 77-97%. The single best test in children younger than age two years was IgG deamidated gliadin, which had no false positive results and thus a positive predictive value of 100%.

Hojsak et al identified 59 children who were younger than three years of age and had both serologic tests and intestinal biopsy performed. Forty-seven children had celiac disease on biopsy and 12 did not. Four serologic tests were compared on their performance characteristics: tTG, EMA, DGP, and AGA. All tests were sensitive, ranging from 96-100%. tTG had a reduced specificity of 50% and DGP had a sensitivity of only 44%, when using the manufacturer’s recommended cut point. In contrast, EMA had a high specificity at 91%. ROC analysis revealed a higher AUC for EMA (96.8%) compared to 89.3% for tTG and 88.2% for DGP. The authors did not address the clinical or statistical significance of these differences in accuracy.

Section Summary

Serologic patterns of celiac disease differ in young children compared to older age groups. Some studies report a reduced sensitivity of tTG and EMA tests in children younger than two years-old, but others do not. AG antibodies, used in combination with tTG and EMA, may be more useful in this situation because of the reduced accuracy of the other tests. Some studies report substantially improved accuracy when using AG antibodies.

Combination And/ Or Sequential Testing

Several studies have evaluated use of multiple serologic tests, either in combination or sequence, in efforts to improve upon the diagnostic accuracy of any single test.

Hopper and colleagues conducted a prospective study in the U.K. that evaluated combinations of tTG and EMA in 2,000 adult patients without a previous history of celiac disease. Duodenal biopsy was performed in all patients and was used as the gold standard. A total of 77/2,000 (3.9%) patients were diagnosed with celiac disease based on histologic findings. Various serologic testing strategies were evaluated; results are as follows:

Serologic test

Sensitivity (%) (95% CI)

Specificity (%) (95% CI)

Only tTG positive

90.9 (82.4-94.5)

90.9 (89.5-92.1)

Only EMG positive

87.0 (77.7-92.8)

98.0 (97.4-98.60

Both positive

85.7 (76.2-91.8)

98.6 (98.0-99.0)

Either positive

92.2 (84.0-96.4)

90.3 (88.9-91.6)

If tTG positive, then EMA positive (2 step)

85.7 (76.2-91.8)

98.6 (98.0-99.0)

The tTG test alone was more sensitive than the EMA test alone, with a somewhat lower specificity. Use of a combination approach (both tests positive, either positive or a two-step approach) did not clearly improve the overall test accuracy. The authors note that the sensitivities of the tTG only and EMA only approaches were somewhat lower than in other studies but state that this may because the current study was prospective and/or because it included a lower-risk population.

Katz et al used a combination of tTG and EMA serologies to identify celiac disease in 3,850 residents in one county in Wyoming. A total of 18 patients were positive for both tests and underwent a small bowel biopsy. On biopsy, 17 of 18 patients had evidence of celiac disease, meaning that the positive predictive value of combination testing was 94%. This study provides no information about the negative predictive values.

Basso et al evaluated a number of diagnostic algorithms using sequential serologic testing in 329 children with documented celiac disease and 374 control children. These authors set the cutoff to achieve 100% specificity and calculated the resulting sensitivity and predictive values. The most sensitive single test was IgA tTG at 75.7%. The most accurate sequence of tests was IgA tTG followed by the QUANTA Lite™ TTG/DGP screen. This sequence of testing yielded an overall accuracy of 78.7% and a negative predictive value of 97.3%.

Some authors have advocated that a high-positive titer for tTG indicates a very high sensitivity and specificity for the diagnosis of celiac disease. Using this principle, a high-positive tTG is sufficient to make the diagnosis of celiac disease, while a low-positive or negative titer should be followed up with additional serologies and/or intestinal biopsy. Mubarak et al used a cutoff for tTG of 100 U/mL in a prospective study of 183 children. These authors reported that 87/130 patients with a positive tTG had levels of at least 100 U/mL. All patients with a tTG at that level had celiac disease, for a specificity and positive predictive value of 100%. Alessio et al performed a retrospective evaluation of 412 consecutively referred patients who underwent small bowel biopsy for suspected celiac disease. A tTG ratio of at least seven times normal was found to correctly classify all patients as celiac disease, yielding a specificity and positive predictive value of 100%.

Section Summary

Sequential and combination testing has the potential to improve the diagnostic accuracy of serology compared to any single test alone. When positive serology is defined as both tTG and EMA being positive, the specificity will improve to close to 100% but with some loss of sensitivity. Using the tests sequentially yields similar diagnostic accuracy. Raising the positive threshold for tTG to high levels, e.g., five to ten times normal, results in a very high specificity, raising the potential that a high-positive result on tTG may be sufficient as a single diagnostic test for celiac disease.

Screening Asymptomatic At-Risk Patient Groups For Celiac Disease Using Serologic Testing

Screening that targets at-risk subpopulations was undertaken by Catassi et al in a multicenter prospective case-finding study of internal medicine and primary care practices in North America. A number of at-risk groups were identified using self-reported questionnaires at the time of office visit; they include those previously listed in this policy, as well as infertility, epilepsy, chronic fatigue, irritable bowel syndrome, recurrent abdominal pain or bloating, and unexplained anemia. Serum tTG IgA testing was performed in 976 adults and was followed by EMA IgA if high (>7.0 arbitrary units) (n=30). The 22 patients with EMA-positive tests were then advised to undergo intestinal biopsy and human leukocyte antigen (HLA) testing. Of 15 biopsies performed, 15 cases of celiac disease were diagnosed. Diagnosis of celiac disease increased from 0.27 cases/1,000 visits in the 12 months preceding the study to 8.6 cases/1,000 visits during the study. This study does not adequately address the question of the potential value of screening for celiac disease in populations considered at high risk.

Population Screening For Celiac Disease Using Serologic Testing

A feasibility study from Europe for a population-based screening program of six year-olds was reported by Korponay-Szabó et al. Nurses performed rapid testing for IgA and tTG and laboratory testing for tTG IgA, IgA-EMA, and EMA IgG among 2,676 of 3,518 eligible children in a county in Hungary. Five children had been diagnosed with celiac disease prior to the study and were not included. Thirty-two new cases of celiac disease were diagnosed (in 25 of 28 with a positive rapid test result, in six of 14 with negative rapid test but positive on all laboratory tests, and in one of one with negative rapid test, negative IgA tests but positive IgG test). The rapid test had a sensitivity of 78.1% and a specificity of 100%. Seropositive cases missed by the rapid test had no villous atrophy on biopsy or were IgA deficient (n=1). None of the 32 newly diagnosed children were previously judged chronically ill, but they had common clinical problems found in untreated celiac disease, such as underweight, iron deficiency, and autoimmune thyroid disease. A gluten-free diet was prescribed for all children, and at six-month follow-up, their mean hemoglobin values and body mass index had increased significantly. A screening program should have clear benefits of an early diagnosis and effective treatment. Case finding and subsequent adherence to a gluten-free diet may improve symptoms and quality of life for those affected, while other health improvements are unknown. Additional studies may help delineate the long-term clinical benefits of a screening program.

Summary of Evidence

Use of serologic tests for the diagnosis of celiac disease has the potential to reduce the need for intestinal biopsies and thus improve the efficiency of diagnosis. Evidence from systematic reviews and head-to-head comparative studies using biopsy as the gold standard is adequate to conclude that tissue transglutaminase and antiendomysial antibody tests are sufficiently accurate for identifying celiac disease in patients with signs or symptoms of the disease. These tests are appropriate for use as the initial diagnostic test for celiac disease and will reduce the need for intestinal biopsy without substantially lowering the accuracy of diagnosis. However, no single test can confidently establish the diagnosis of celiac disease in every individual. As a result, the most important initial step in diagnosis is recognition of the many clinical features that can be associated with the disease.

In children younger than two years-old, the pattern of serologies appears to be different than in older individuals. One study found that, in children younger than 18 months, serologic measurement of antigliadin antibodies (AGA) is more sensitive than either of the other two tests. Other studies have corroborated that the accuracy of tTG in children younger than two years is less than in adults, but these studies are not consistent in determining the optimal testing strategy in young children. Because of the reduced accuracy of tTG, other serologic tests such as AGA have potentially greater utility and may be considered medically necessary in children younger than two years.

Rashtak et al reported that deamidated gliadin antibody is a better diagnostic test for celiac disease than the conventional gliadin antibody testing; although histopathology remains the gold standard test for diagnosis of celiac patients. The utility of this technology has not been proven more effective than the current gold standard and remains not medically necessary.

Practice Guidelines and Position Statements

American Gastroenterological Association

In 2013, the American Gastroenterological Association issued the following position statement on the diagnosis and management of celiac disease. Many individuals with celiac disease may have no symptoms at all. Celiac disease is usually detected by serologic testing of celiac-specific antibodies. The diagnosis is confirmed by duodenal mucosal biopsies. Both serology and biopsy should be performed on a gluten-containing diet. The treatment for celiac disease is primarily a gluten-free diet (GFD), which requires significant patient education, motivation, and follow-up. Non-responsive celiac disease occurs frequently, particularly in those diagnosed in adulthood. Persistent or recurring symptoms should lead to a review of the patient's original diagnosis to exclude alternative diagnoses, a review of the GFD to ensure there is no obvious gluten contamination, and serologic testing to confirm adherence with the GFD. In addition, evaluation for disorders associated with celiac disease that could cause persistent symptoms, such as microscopic colitis, pancreatic exocrine dysfunction, and complications of celiac disease, such as enteropathy-associated lymphoma or refractory celiac disease, should be entertained. Newer therapeutic modalities are being studied in clinical trials, but are not yet approved for use in practice. Given the incomplete response of many patients to a GFD-free diet as well as the difficulty of adherence to the GFD over the long term, development of new effective therapies for symptom control and reversal of inflammation and organ damage are needed. The prevalence of celiac disease is increasing worldwide and many patients with celiac disease remain undiagnosed, highlighting the need for improved strategies in the future for the optimal detection of patients.

North American Society for Pediatric Gastroenterology, Hepatology and Nutrition

In 2016, NASPGHAN issued the following guideline on the diagnosis and treatment of celiac disease in children. To screen patients for celiac disease (CD), measurement of the immunoglobulin A (IgA) tissue transglutaminase antibody is the preferred test. Total serum IgA level should be measured to exclude selective IgA deficiency and to avoid false-negative test results. Patients with positive serologic test results should be referred to a gastroenterologist for endoscopic small intestinal biopsies to confirm the diagnosis. Testing for human leukocyte antigens DQ2 and DQ8 can help exclude the diagnosis. A gluten-free diet should not be started before confirming the diagnosis of CD. Serologic testing is very useful for screening patients with suspected CD. Early diagnosis is essential to prevent complications of CD.

National Institutes of Health (NIH)

The NIH issued a Consensus Development Conference Statement in June 2004 based on a two-day meeting and literature reviews by the University of Ottawa Evidence-based Practice Center. The NIH considered serologic testing as the first step in pursuing a diagnosis of celiac disease and stated that the best tests are the tTG IgA and EMA IgA tests, which they considered to be of equivalent accuracy. In individuals with suggestive symptoms and negative tTG IgA or EMA tests, consider an IgA deficiency and, if identified, it is recommended that a tTG IgG or EMA IgG be performed. When diagnosis is uncertain due to indeterminate test results, an option according to the NIH statement is to test for the genetic markers HLA-DQ2 or HLA-DQ8. Biopsy of the proximal small bowel is indicated in those with a positive celiac disease antibody test, except those with biopsy-proven dermatitis herpetiformis. No specific approach was suggested when there is positive serology and normal biopsy findings. Options include additional biopsies, repeat serology testing, and a trial of a gluten-free diet. Testing is indicated in individuals with gastrointestinal symptoms and other signs and symptoms suggestive of celiac disease. Routine screening of asymptomatic individuals in high-risk groups (e.g., those with Type 1 diabetes) was not recommended, although they stated that discussions with individual patients are warranted.

U.S. Preventive Services Task Force Recommendations

There are no recommendations from the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) related to screening for celiac disease in children or adults.

Key Words:

Celiac disease, CD, celiac sprue, serologic tests, DGP, deamidated gladin peptide, tTG, tissue transglutaminase, AGA, antigliadin antibodies, EMA, antiendomysial antibodies

Approved by Governing Bodies:

FDA approved

Benefit Application:

Coverage is subject to member’s specific benefits. Group specific policy will supersede this policy when applicable.

ITS: Home Policy provisions apply.

FEP: Special benefit consideration may apply. Refer to member’s benefit plan. FEP does not consider investigational if FDA approved and will be reviewed for medical necessity

Current Coding:

CPT codes:


Gammaglobulin; IgA, IgD, IgG, IgM, each


Immunoassay for analyte other than infectious agent antibody or infectious agent antigen, qualitative or semiquantitative; multiple step method


Immunoassay for analyte other than infectious agent antibody or infectious agent antigen, qualitative or semiquantitative; single step method (e.g., reagent strip)


Immunoassay, analyte, quantitative; not otherwise specified


Fluorescent noninfectious agent antibody; screen, each antibody


Fluorescent noninfectious agent antibody; titer, each antibody


HLA typing; DR/DQ, Single Antigen


Immunofluorescence, per specimen; initial single antibody stain procedure


each additional single antibody stain procedure (List separately in addition to code for primary procedure)


  1. Alessio MG TE, Brusca I, et al. Correlation between IgA tissue transglutaminase antibody ratio and histological finding in celiac disease. J Pediatr Gastroenterol Nutr 2012; 55(1):44-49.
  2. American Gastroenterological Association Medical Position Statement: Celiac sprue. Gastroenterology 2001; 120(6): 1522-5.
  3. American Gastroenterological Association. AGA Institute Medical Position Statement on the Diagnosis and Management of Celiac Disease. Gastroenterology 2006; 131: 1977-1980.
  4. Basso D, Guariso G, Bozzato D et al. New screening tests enrich anti-transglutaminase results and support a highly sensitive two-test based strategy for celiac disease diagnosis. Clin Chim Acta 2011; 412(17-18):1662-7.
  5. Catassi C, Kryszak D, et al. Detection of Celiac disease in primary care: A multicenter case-finding study in North America. Am J Gastroenterol, July 2007; 102(7): 1454-1460.
  6. Farrell RJ and Kelly CP. Current concepts: Celiac sprue. N Engl J Med 2002; 346(3); 180-8.
  7. Farrell R, et al. Diagnosis of celiac sprue. Am J of Gastroenterology 2001; 96(12): 3237-46.
  8. Fasano A and Catassi C. Current approaches to diagnosis and treatment of celiac disease: An evolving spectrum. Gastroenterology 2001; 120(3): 636-51.
  9. Foucher B, Johanet C, Jego-Desplat S et al. Are Immunoglobulin A anti-gliadin antibodies of any help in the diagnosis of coeliac disease in children below 2 years-old? a French multicenter study. J Pediatr Gastroenterol Nutr 2012; 54(1):110-2.
  10. Green PH, Cellier C. Celiac disease. NEJM, October 25, 2007; 357: 1731-1743.
  11. Hill ID. What are the sensitivity and specificity of serologic tests for celiac disease? Do sensitivity and specificity vary in different populations? Gastroenterology, April 2005; 128(4 Suppl 1): S25-32.
  12. Hill ID, Dirks MH, Liptak GS et al. Guideline for the diagnosis and treatment of celiac disease in children: recommendations of the North American Society for Pediatric Gastroenterology, Hepatology and Nutrition. J Pediatr Gastroenterol Nutr 2005; 40(1):1-19.
  13. Hojsak I, Mozer-Glassberg Y, Segal Gilboa N et al. Celiac Disease Screening Assays for Children Younger than 3 Years of Age: The Performance of Three Serological Tests. Dig Dis Sci 2011.
  14. Hopper AD, Hadjivassiliou M, Hurlstone DP et al. What is the role of serologic testing in celiac disease? A prospective, biopsy-confirmed study with economic analysis. Clin Gastroenterol Hepatol 2008; 6(3):314-20.
  15. Katz KD, Rashtak S, Lahr BD et al. Screening for celiac disease in a North American population: sequential serology and gastrointestinal symptoms. Am J Gastroenterol 2011; 106(7):1333-9.
  16. Kelly, Ciaran P. (2018). Diagnosis of celiac disease in adults. In Grover, Shilpa (Ed.), UpToDate. Retrieved September 14, 2018 from
  17. Korponay-Szabo IR, Szabados K, Pusztai J et al. Population screening for coeliac disease in primary care by district nurses using a rapid antibody test: diagnostic accuracy and feasibility study. BMJ 2007; 335(7632):1244-7.
  18. Lagerqvist C, Dahlbom I, Hansson T et al. Antigliadin immunoglobulin A best in finding celiac disease in children younger than 18 months of age. J Pediatr Gastroenterol Nutr 2008; 47(4):428-35.
  19. Lewis NR, Scott BB. Meta-analysis: deamidated gliadin peptide antibody and tissue transglutaminase antibody compared as screening tests for coeliac disease. Aliment Pharmacol Therap 2010; 31(1):73-81.
  20. Mubarak A WV, Gmelig-Meyling FH, et al. Tissue transglutaminase levels above 100 U/ml and celiac disease: a prospective study. World J Gastroenterol 2012; 18(32):4399-403.
  21. Mubarak A, Gmelig-Meyling FH, Wolters VM et al. Immunoglobulin G antibodies against deamidated-gliadin-peptides outperform anti-endomysium and tissue transglutaminase antibodies in children <2 years age. APMIS 2011; 119(12):894-900.
  22. Naiyer AJ, Hernandez L, Ciaccio EJ et al. Comparison of commercially available serologic kits for the detection of celiac disease. J Clin Gastroenterol 2009; 43(3):225-32.
  23. NIH consensus development conference on celiac disease. Consensus development conference statement. 2004. Available online at: Last accessed March 2010.
  24. Panetta F, Torre G, Colistro F et al. Clinical accuracy of anti-tissue transglutaminase as screening test for celiac disease under 2 years. Acta Paediatr 2011; 100(5):728-31.
  25. Pietzak A, et al. Celiac disease: Going against the grain. Nutrition in Clinical Practice 2001; 16:335-44.
  26. Rashid, M, Lee, J. Serologic testing in celiac disease; practical guide for clinicians. Can Fam Physician. 2016 Jan; 62(1): 38–43.
  27. Rashtak S, Ettore MW, Homburger HA, Murray JA. Comparative usefulness of deamidated gliadin antibodies in the diagnosis of celiac disease. Clin Gastroenterol Hepatol. 2008 Apr;6(4):426-32; quiz 370. Epub 2008 Mar 4.
  28. Rubio-Tapia, Alberto, MD; Hill, Ivor D, MD; Kelly, Ciarán P, MD; Calderwood, Audrey H, MD; Murray, Joseph A, MD. ACG Clinical Guidelines: Diagnosis and Management of Celiac Disease. American Journal of Gastroenterology: May 2013:Volume 108:Issue 5:p.656–676
  29. Sblattero D, et al. Human recombinant tissue transglutaminase ELISA: An innovative diagnostic assay for celiac disease. Am J of Gastroenterology 2000; 95(5): 1253-57.
  30. Sugai E, Moreno ML, Hwang HJ et al. Celiac disease serology in patients with different pretest probabilities: is biopsy avoidable? World J Gastroenterol 2010; 16(25):3144-52.
  31. Vermeersch P, Geboes K, Marien G et al. Diagnostic performance of IgG anti-deamidated gliadin peptide antibody assays is comparable to IgA anti-tTG in celiac disease. Clin Chim Acta 2010; 411(13-14):931-5.
  32. Walburga D, et al. Autoantibodies to tissue transglutaminase as predictors of celiac disease. Gastroenterology 1998; 115:1317-21.
  33. Walker-Smith JA GS, Schmitz J et al. Revised criteria for diagnosis of coeliac disease. Report of Working Group of European Society of Paediatric Gastroenterology and Nutrition. Arch Dis Child 1990; 65(8):909-11.
  34. Zanini B, Lanzarotto F, Mora A, Bertolazzi S, Turini D, Cesana B, Donato F, Ricci C, Lonati F, Vassallo F, Scarcella C, Lanzini A. Five year time course of celiac disease serology during gluten free diet: results of a community based "CD-Watch" program. Dig Liver Dis. 2010;42(12):865. Epub 2010 Jul 2.
  35. Zintzaras E and Germenis AE. Performance of antibodies against tissue transglutaminase for the diagnosis of celiac disease: Meta-analysis. Clinical and Vaccine Immunology, February 2006, vol. 13, No. 2, pp. 187-192.

Policy History:

Medical Policy Group, May 2004

Medical Policy Administration Committee, June 2004 (2)

Available for comment June 28-August 11, 2004

Medical Policy Group, May 2007 (1)

Medical Policy Group, November 2008 (2)

Medical Policy Group, February 2009 (1)

Medical Policy Administration Committee, March 2009

Available for comment March 4-April 17, 2009

Medical Policy Group, September 2010 (1)

Medical Policy Group, January 2012 (1): Update to Key Points and References related to MPP update; no change in policy statement

Medical Policy Panel, January 2013

Medical Policy Group, September 2013 (1): Deaminated gliadin peptide antibodies are considered investigational and verbiage is added to policy statement, rest of policy statement reconfigured for clarification purposes, along with the addition of tissue transglutaminase to coverage criteria; addition of CPT codes 81377, 81382 and 81383 related to genetic testing for HLA-DQ2/8; update to Key Points and References

Medical Policy Administration Committee, September 2013

Available for comment September 19 through November 2, 2013

Medical Policy Group, January 2014 (1): Removed all aspects of HLA-DQ testing related to celiac disease and created new policy #545; no other changes noted to policy

Medical Policy Group, November 2015: 2016 Annual Coding Update. Add CPT code 88346 and new CPT code 88350 to the current coding section and moved CPT code 88347 to previous coding.

Medical Policy Group, January 2014: Active policy but no longer scheduled for regular literature reviews or updates.

Medical Policy Group, September 2018 (9): Updates to Key Points, References, Key Words. No change to policy statement.

Medical Policy Group, June 2019 (9): Updates to Description, Key Points, References. Added AGA and DGP abbreviations for clarification purposes to policy statement; no change to intent.

This medical policy is not an authorization, certification, explanation of benefits, or a contract. Eligibility and benefits are determined on a case-by-case basis according to the terms of the member’s plan in effect as of the date services are rendered. All medical policies are based on (i) research of current medical literature and (ii) review of common medical practices in the treatment and diagnosis of disease as of the date hereof. Physicians and other providers are solely responsible for all aspects of medical care and treatment, including the type, quality, and levels of care and treatment.

This policy is intended to be used for adjudication of claims (including pre-admission certification, pre-determinations, and pre-procedure review) in Blue Cross and Blue Shield’s administration of plan contracts.

The plan does not approve or deny procedures, services, testing, or equipment for our members. Our decisions concern coverage only. The decision of whether or not to have a certain test, treatment or procedure is one made between the physician and his/her patient. The plan administers benefits based on the member’s contract and corporate medical policies. Physicians should always exercise their best medical judgment in providing the care they feel is most appropriate for their patients. Needed care should not be delayed or refused because of a coverage determination.

As a general rule, benefits are payable under health plans only in cases of medical necessity and only if services or supplies are not investigational, provided the customer group contracts have such coverage.

The following Association Technology Evaluation Criteria must be met for a service/supply to be considered for coverage:

1. The technology must have final approval from the appropriate government regulatory bodies;

2. The scientific evidence must permit conclusions concerning the effect of the technology on health outcomes;

3. The technology must improve the net health outcome;

4. The technology must be as beneficial as any established alternatives;

5. The improvement must be attainable outside the investigational setting.

Medical Necessity means that health care services (e.g., procedures, treatments, supplies, devices, equipment, facilities or drugs) that a physician, exercising prudent clinical judgment, would provide to a patient for the purpose of preventing, evaluating, diagnosing or treating an illness, injury or disease or its symptoms, and that are:

1. In accordance with generally accepted standards of medical practice; and

2. Clinically appropriate in terms of type, frequency, extent, site and duration and considered effective for the patient’s illness, injury or disease; and

3. Not primarily for the convenience of the patient, physician or other health care provider; and

4. Not more costly than an alternative service or sequence of services at least as likely to produce equivalent therapeutic

or diagnostic results as to the diagnosis or treatment of that patient’s illness, injury or disease.