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Celiac Disease Is a Growing Health Concern

July 3, 2009

A digestive disease caused by an immune response to gluten in wheat, barely, or rye is not only growing in prevalence, but leading to a higher rate of death for people who have it but don’t know it.

Those are the key findings from Mayo Clinic researchers who tested blood samples collected at an Air Force base in Wyoming in the late 1940s and early 1950s for celiac disease, then compared the results to blood tests for people today who were the same age as those in the earlier sample and those who were born in the same years as the original participants.

Results showed today’s young people are 4.5 times more likely to have celiac disease. People who were born in the same birth years as the earlier study participants are four times more likely to have the condition.

Most importantly, people in the original group who had celiac disease but were never diagnosed were almost four times more likely to have died since the original blood was drawn.

The researchers aren’t sure why celiac disease is becoming more prevalent, but believe these results suggest a need for wider testing among the general public to pick up more undiagnosed cases. “Until recently, the standard approach to finding celiac disease has been to wait for people to complain of symptoms and to come to the doctor for investigation,” study author Joseph Murray, M.D., was quoted as saying. “This study suggests that we may need to consider looking for celiac disease in the general population, more like we do in testing for cholesterol or blood pressure.”

Celiac disease is often hard to diagnose because the symptoms ““ diarrhea, abdominal discomfort, weight loss, anemia, and others ““ are so similar to other more common conditions like irritable bowel syndrome.

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