Celiac.com 03/29/2019 (Originally published 06/26/2007) - Celiac disease is one of the most common chronic health disorders in western countries. It is also one of the most under-diagnosed. Up until the late 90s, medical schools taught that celiac disease was rare, and only affected about 1 in 2,500 people. They also taught that celiac disease mainly affected children and young people.
Recent studies and advances in diagnosis show that at least 3 million Americans, or about 1 in 133 people have celiac disease, but less than 1 in 5 of those are ever diagnosed.
Celiac Disease is More Common than Crohn’s or Multiple Sclerosis (MS)
The National Institutes of Health shows the prevalence of celiac disease to other well-known conditions as follows:
- Celiac Disease affects at least 3.2 million Americans
- Epilepsy affects at least 3.4 million Americans
- Crohn’s Disease affects 1.6 million Americans
- Ulcerative Colitis affects just under 1 million Americans
- Multiple Sclerosis affects nearly 1 million Americans
- Cystic Fibrosis affects 30,000 Americans
Black, Hispanic and Asian Populations Affected
While celiac disease mostly affects people of European, especially Northern European, descent, recent studies show that it also affects portions of the Hispanic, Black and Asian populations as well. Celiac disease presents a broad range of symptoms, from mild weakness and bone pain, to chronic diarrhea, abdominal bloating, and progressive weight loss. In most cases, treatment with a gluten-free diet leads to a full recovery from celiac disease. It is therefore imperative that the disease is quickly and properly diagnosed so it can be treated as soon as possible.
High Cancer Risk for Non-Gluten-Free Patients
If people with the disease continue to eat gluten, studies show that their risk of gastrointestinal cancer is 40 to 100 times that of the normal population. In addition to increased cancer risk, untreated celiac disease is associated with osteoporosis, and a two-fold increase in the risk of fractures, including first-time hip fractures. Moreover, an unusually high percentage of people with the disease suffer from the following related conditions (% in parenthesis):
• Arthritis (20%)
• Ataxia (40%)
• Cancer—Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma (39%)
• Cows Milk Intolerance (24%)
• Dermatitis (5%)
• Diabetes-Type 1 (12%)
• Irritable Bowel Syndrome (20%)
• Liver Disease (42%)
• Migraine Headaches (4%)
• Nerve Disease and/or Peripheral Neuropathy (51%)
• Obesity (30-40%)
• Osteoporosis (4.5%)
• Osteomalacia/Low Bone Density (70%)
• Pancreatic & Thyroid Disorders (5-14%)
Screening Common for Related Conditions
In fact, untreated celiac disease can actually cause or worsen some of these conditions, and medical guidelines now recommend celiac screening for all people with these conditions.
The vast majority of people see doctors who have been in practice for more than ten years, for whom celiac disease is still seen as a rare condition, and often not considered when handling patient complaints. Make sure your doctor is up to date on celiac disease.
Seniors Suffer More Celiac-Related Issues
Seniors are also more likely than the general population to suffer from conditions associated (Arthritis, Diabetes, Liver Disease, Osteoporosis, etc). Without awareness and screening, they are at greater risk for developing disorders resulting from celiac disease--many of which are avoidable with diagnosis and treatment. Awareness of celiac disease and related issues offers seniors and easy way to improve their health and well-being.