MONDAY, Sept. 27 (HealthDay News) -- The autoimmune disorder
known as celiac disease appears to be on the rise, particularly
among elderly Americans, new research suggests.
Researchers from the United States and Italy uncovered evidence
that overall incidence rates of the disease -- marked by an
intolerance to the protein gluten that is found in wheat, barley
and rye -- have been doubling every 15 years since 1974.
The findings are reported in the Sept. 27 online edition of
Annals of Medicine by lead author Dr. Carlo Catassi, of the
Universita Politecnica delle Marche in Ancona, Italy, who also
serves as co-director of the University of Maryland School of
Medicine Center for Celiac Research.
The study authors said it's not clear what causes a person to
develop the disease. Genetics seem to play a role, and some people
are born with it. But, genetic predisposition doesn't always
translate into actual illness, because others without a
predisposition can develop gluten intolerance.
Environmental factors are also believed to figure into the
equation, although it's not known why, Catassi and his colleagues
To get a better handle on the condition, the researchers took
blood samples from more than 3,500 adults. The investigators found
that the ratio of people who had blood markers for the disease rose
continuously from one in every 501 individuals in 1974 to one in
219 by 1989.
The researchers also pointed to a 2003 study that placed the
incidence rate at approximately one in every 133 Americans.
The researchers also found that as their study participants grew
older, the rate of disease went up. This mirrored an earlier
Finnish study that suggested that celiac disease appears to be
two-and-a-half times more common among the elderly than the general
population. This contradicts a previously held notion that gluten
intolerance usually takes place during childhood, the researchers
"You're not necessarily born with celiac disease," Catassi said in a University of Maryland news release. "Our findings show that some people develop celiac disease quite late in life."
Based on their findings, the researchers suggest that doctors be
on the lookout for signs of the disease among elderly patients.
Symptoms can include diarrhea, intestinal bloating and stomach
cramps, and in some cases joint pain, chronic fatigue and
depression. If left untreated, the condition can prompt the onset
of nutrient absorption issues and small intestine damage, the
Immune disorders, which strike 5 percent to 8 percent of
Americans, are the third most common category of disease -- after
cancer and heart disease, the researchers said.
For more on celiac disease, visit the
U.S. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive ...