Celiac Disease Not As Uncommon As Once Thought

January 25, 2000

Celiac disease is common in the United States and often goes undiagnosed, according to a study published in the January edition of the Journal of Pediatrics by physicians at Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center and the University of Maryland.

Estimated to affect 1 in 150-200 people in Europe, celiac disease is a genetic disorder that results in a sensitivity to gluten from wheat, rye or barley products. If left untreated, celiac disease keeps the body from absorbing needed vitamins and minerals, often leaving a patient anemic and malnourished.

However, treatment is not painful, according to Ivor D. Hill, M.D., a pediatric gastroenterologist and expert on celiac disease at Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center.

"By following a gluten-free diet, patients will experience no symptoms and lead healthy, normal lives," Hill said. "However, it is easier said than done in some cases. Patients have to diligently find ways to prepare foods without these products. It''s a matter of knowing what is good for you and incorporating it into your diet."

Before this study, celiac disease was generally believed to be rare in the United States, according to Hill.

"Studies conducted by me and collaborating colleagues at the University of Maryland, confirm the condition is not rare in the United States and is as common as in Europe," he said.

Because of a lack of awareness of the many ways it can manifest, celiac disease has taken an average of 11 years to diagnose and patients who suffer from it are often first diagnosed with other conditions such as irritable bowel syndrome and lactose intolerance.

A diagnosis of celiac disease requires microscopic examination of a small piece of tissue from the intestinal lining (biopsy) obtained during an endoscopic procedure, according to Hill.

"Celiac disease can be extremely varied in presentation and physicians must have a high index of suspicion when trying to diagnosis it," Hill said. "Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center is one of the few centers in the country conducting research on the disorder."

The disorder can be asymptomatic for many years, then a stressor can trigger the disease, causing the patient to experience symptoms including bouts of diarrhea, vomiting and abdominal pain when exposed to foods containing gluten.

A total of 1,200 individuals took part in this study.


Media Contact: Rae Beasley, (336) 716-6878 or Jim Steele (336) 716-3487.

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