By Talia Machlouf

For many years, researchers have estimated celiac disease to affect 1 in 100 people worldwide, but a recent study presented at the 6th World Congress of Pediatric Gastroenterology, Hepatology, and Nutrition found double the number of celiac disease cases among school children compared to a similar study by the same group performed 25 years ago. Executed as part of the CELI SCREEN multi-center clinical trial, and led by Elena Lionetti, Associate Professor at the Department of Pediatrics at the Marche Polytechnic University, Ancona, Italy, the study conducted a mass screening of children age 5-11 from eight different Italian provinces and found the overall prevalence of celiac disease to be 1.6% – a much greater percentage than the 1% that researchers have been approximating for years.

The overall prevalence of celiac disease was found to be 1.6% - a much greater percentage than the 1% that researchers have been approximating for years.

The 7,760 children in the study were screened for a predisposition to developing celiac disease using a finger-tip blood test for Human Leukocyte Antigens (HLA) gene mutations. The children who tested positive were then checked for gluten antibodies serologically, measuring the levels of deamidated gliadin protein epitopes (DGP) and tissue transglutaminase (tTG) antibodies in their blood. Diagnosis was confirmed using the ESPGHAN (European Society for Pediatric, Gastroenterology, Hepatology, and Nutrition) criteria.

It is clear that the prevalence of celiac disease in Europe is rising. Lionetti explains that “there are more cases of coeliac disease than in the past, and that we could not discover them without a screening strategy.” Celiac disease experts currently estimate that up to 70% of celiac disease cases are undiagnosed. The more we screen for celiac disease in childhood, the more cases will be diagnosed compared to current standard care where patients may be screened upon symptom presentation or as a result of family history of celiac disease. Early diagnosis of celiac disease in childhood may not only help prevent serious, long-term suffering and the development of comorbid conditions, but it would also improve people’s overall quality of life.

To read the original press release about this study, please click here.

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