Mass screening for celiac disease (CD) as a public health intervention is controversial. Prior to implementation, acceptability to the targeted population should be addressed. We aimed at exploring adolescents’ and parents’ experiences of having the adolescents’ CD detected through mass screening, and their attitudes towards possible future mass screening.

All adolescents (n = 145) with screening-detected CD found in a Swedish school-based screening study, and their parents, were invited to this study about one year after diagnosis. In all, 14 focus group discussions were conducted with 31 adolescents and 43 parents. Written narrative was completed by 91 adolescents (63%) and 105 parents (72%), and questionnaires returned by 114 parents (79%). Data were analyzed using qualitative content analysis. In addition, narratives and questionnaire data allowed for quantified measures.

Adolescents and parents described how they agreed to participate “for the good of others,” without considering consequences for themselves. However, since the screening also introduced a potential risk of having the disease, the invitation was regarded as “an offer hard to resist.” For the majority, receiving the diagnosis was described as “a bolt of lightning,” but for some it provided an explanation for previous health problems, and “suddenly everything made sense.” Looking back at the screening, the predominant attitude was “feeling grateful for being made aware,” but some adolescents and parents also expressed “ambivalent feelings about personal benefits.” Among parents, 92% supported future CD screening. The most common opinion among both adolescents and parents was that future CD mass screening should be “a right for everyone” and should be offered as early as possible. However, some argued that it should be “only for sufferers” with symptoms, whereas others were “questioning the benefits” of CD mass screening.

Although the incentives to participate in the CD screening were partly non-personal, and diagnosis was met with surprise, adolescents and parents felt grateful that they were made aware. They welcomed future CD screening, but suggested that it should be conducted earlier in life. Thus, CD mass screening seemed acceptable to most of those who were diagnosed and their parents.

Authors: Anna Rosén; Maria Emmelin; Annelie Carlsson; Solveig Hammarroth; Eva Karlsson; Anneli Ivarsson