Rates of Celiac Disease 2.5 Times Greater Among Elderly
Jefferson Adams is a freelance writer living in San Francisco. His poems, essays and photographs have appeared in Antioch Review, Blue Mesa Review, CALIBAN, Hayden's Ferry Review, Huffington Post, the Mississippi Review, and Slate among others.
He is a member of both the National Writers Union, the International Federation of Journalists, and covers San Francisco Health News for Examiner.com.View all articles by Jefferson Adams
Even with a wealth of new information on celiac disease from numerous recent studies, along with better testing methods, we still don’t know very much about rates of celiac disease in older people. Motivated by that fact, the team recently set out to study the prevalence of celiac disease in elderly populations.
In theory, celiac disease should occur in the elderly at rates similar to, or lower than, those of the general population. Since current research indicates that about 1 person in a hundred has celiac disease, it seems logical to figure that rates of celiac disease among the elderly would be the same or even lower than rates for the general population.
The researchers figured that clinically silent or undiagnosed celiac disease would be rare in elderly populations, as they would be likely to develop obvious symptoms. But the team was surprised to find that rates of celiac disease among the elderly are more than double those of the general population.
They looked at 2,815 individuals between the ages of 52–74. They took blood samples from everyone and isolated people who showed signs of clinical celiac disease. They then screened the samples for IgA tissue transglutaminase antibodies. Subjects with positive antibody tests were given a small bowel biopsy. The doctors found celiac disease in 60 individuals, 25 (0.89%) through positive blood tests, and 35 (1.24%) through biopsy, for a total prevalence of in elderly subjects of 2.13% with 95% confidence intervals (1.60–2.67%). Of the screen-detected cases, only 15 had symptoms, and those were mostly mild. Driving home the dangers of late diagnosis, two out of the 60 had small bowel T-cell lymphoma and two had gastric cancer.
Altogether, celiac disease was diagnosed through biopsy, and by blood test without a post-gluten-free diet follow-up test at a rate of 2.45% (1.88–3.02%).
This study shows that celiac disease is far more prevalent in elderly people than in the general population. To better detect and treat celiac disease in elderly populations, the doctors are encouraging the use of active case finding using blood tests, since undetected celiac disease can lead to serious complications and even early death.
2008 Editrice Gastroenterologica Italiana S.r.l.
As always, Celiac.com welcomes your comments (see below).