Diagnosing children with celiac disease currently involves invasive procedures like blood tests and allergy testing. But a new test could make diagnosis much easier and speed up the process of putting affected children on a gluten-free diet.

Celiac disease is an autoimmune reaction to gluten, a protein found in grains like wheat, barley, rye and triticale. It can cause frequent diarrhea, abdominal pain, bloating and other symptoms of Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS). Headaches and skin rashes are also common symptoms.

Undiagnosed, celiac disease can cause long-term health problems. To speed up diagnosis, scientists at La Sapienza University in Rome have created a new test for children between the ages of 6 and 8. The test examines patients' saliva for enzymes and related factors that would indicate the presence of celiac disease.

The scientists collected saliva samples from more than 4,000 children. Out of those children, 41 tested positive for antibody factors that indicated the body was having trouble processing gluten. Those children got follow-up endoscopies and biopsies to confirm that they did have celiac disease, proving the results of the saliva tests. The children were then put on gluten-free diets.

In the abstract to their paper, the scientists conclude, "We demonstrated that it is possible to perform a powerful, simple, well-accepted, and sensitive CD screening using saliva." The results of their study are available in the January 2011 issue of the Journal of Pediatric Gastroenterology & Nutrition.