According to findings of a Mayo Clinic study published July 2009 in the journal Gastroenterology¹, Celiac disease (CD) is over four times more common today than it was 50 years ago. The study also found that subjects who did not know they had celiac disease were nearly four times more likely than celiac-free subjects to have died during the 45 years of follow-up.
When people with celiac disease eat gluten, a response is triggered by the body’s immune system that damages the lining of the small intestine. Over time, this interferes with the absorption of nutrients and can lead to a wide range of serious problems.
Because of this, people with celiac disease must avoid eating any food that contains gluten. Even small amounts of gluten can affect those with CD and damage can occur to the small bowel even when there are no symptoms present.
According to Joseph Murray, M.D., the Mayo Clinic gastroenterologist who led the study, “Celiac disease now affects about one in a hundred people. We also have shown that undiagnosed or ‘silent’ celiac disease may have a significant impact on survival. Increasing prevalence, combined with the mortality impact, suggests celiac disease could be a significant public health issue.”
Gluten is the common name for proteins in specific grains that are harmful to persons with celiac disease. These proteins are found in all forms of wheat, including durum, semolina, kamut, spelt, einkorn, and faro and in grains such as rye, barley and triticale. All foods that contain these grains must be eliminated from the diet.
Some symptoms of celiac disease are a lot like those of other digestive disorders, and for this reason people with celiac disease are often undiagnosed and untreated. Symptoms that suggest Celiac disease include chronic diarrhea, abdominal pain, weight loss and anemia. Having a persistently irritable infant who fails to thrive or family member with the disease are also reasons to undergo testing.
Celiac disease runs in families, indicating that genes may play a major role, however researchers say their findings suggest that changes in the environment may be contributing to the increase.
“Celiac disease is unusual, but it’s no longer rare,” says Dr. Murray. “Something has changed in our environment to make it much more common. Until recently, the standard approach to finding celiac disease has been to wait for people to complain of symptoms and to come to the doctor for investigation. This study suggests that we may need to consider looking for celiac disease in the general population, more like we do in testing for cholesterol or blood pressure.”
“Part of the problem is that celiac disease symptoms are variable and can be mistaken for other diseases that are more common, such as irritable bowel syndrome,” he says. “Some studies have suggested that for every person who has been diagnosed with celiac disease, there are likely 30 who have it but are not diagnosed. And given the nearly quadrupled mortality risk for silent celiac disease we have shown in our study, getting more patients and health professionals to consider the possibility of celiac disease is important.”
Your doctor can test for Celiac disease. Download this Celiac Disease Symptom Checklist² and bring it to your appointment.
1Increased Prevalence and Mortality in Undiagnosed Celiac Disease. Alberto Rubio–Tapia, Robert A. Kyle, Edward L. Kaplan, Dwight R. Johnson, William Page, Frederick Erdtmann, Tricia L. Brantner, W. Ray Kim, Tara K. Phelps, Brian D. Lahr, Alan R. Zinsmeister, L. Joseph Melton, Joseph A. Murray.
Gastroenterology – July 2009 (Vol. 137, Issue 1, Pages 88-93, DOI: 10.1053/j.gastro.2009.03.059)
2Prometheus Therapeutics & Diagnostics http://www.prometheusceliactest.com/