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  • Jefferson Adams
    Jefferson Adams

    Rates of Celiac Disease 2.5 Times Greater Among Elderly

    Reviewed and edited by a celiac disease expert.

    Celiac.com 10/10/2008 - A team of Finnish researchers announced that they have found high rates of undetected celiac disease in elderly populations. They have also noted that a significant number of those older people diagnosed with celiac disease showed only minor symptoms. The study team was made up of doctors A. Vilppula, P. Collin, M. M¨aki, R. Valve, M. Luostarinen, I. Krekel¨a, H. Patrikainen, K. Kaukinen, and L. Luostarinen.

    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.


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    If this is replicated in other countries, it may suggest that the rate of celiac disease is higher than supposed - but that it can take years to get enough damage to show on tests. It would be interesting to know if there were other illnesses, e.g., dementia, showing higher rates amongst these until now undiagnosed celiacs. And if going gluten free helped the cases of cancer to slow their progressions.

    SandraB

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    Nothing surprising here. If you are young, you are diagnosed with colitis, or maybe IBS or Chron's. If you are older, they may call it Diverticulosis. My guess is that very few doctors have ever suggested that any elderly patient be tested for Celiac or go gluten-free.

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  • About Me

    Jefferson Adams is Celiac.com's senior writer and Digital Content Director. He earned his B.A. and M.F.A. at Arizona State University, and has authored more than 2,000 articles on celiac disease. His coursework includes studies in biology, anatomy, medicine, science, and advanced research, and scientific methods. He previously served as SF Health News Examiner for Examiner.com, and devised health and medical content for Sharecare.com. Jefferson has spoken about celiac disease to the media, including an appearance on the KQED radio show Forum, and is the editor of the book "Cereal Killers" by Scott Adams and Ron Hoggan, Ed.D.

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