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Most Americans Are Unaware They Have Celiac Disease, Study Says

Most Americans Are Unaware They Have Celiac Disease, Study Says
8/1/2012 8:56 AM ET

Celiac disease is an inherited autoimmune disorder that affects the digestive process of the small intestine triggered by the ingestion of certain proteins called gluten present in some cereal grains. A new survey by researchers at the Mayo Clinic has indicated that around 1.8 million Americans have this condition and around 1.4 million of them are unaware that they have it.

Previously researchers had estimated the rate of prevalence of the disease at similar levels, but this is the first authentic study on the issue.

As part of the study, researchers carried out blood tests on 7,798 people over the age of six years, who had taken part in a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, or CDC, nationwide population sample survey called the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey 2009-2010. A unique feature of that survey, carried out to to assess the health and nutrition of US adults and children, was that it combined interviews with physical examinations.

The findings of the study revealed that 35 participants had celiac disease. 20 of them were women and 29 of them were Caucasians. 29 of them were unaware of their condition. The study provided proof that the disease was common in the US with 1 in 141 Americans having this condition. It also found out the rate of prevalence of this disease in the US to be similar to that found in several European countries.

Rubio-Tapia, co-author of the study and a Mayo Clinic gastroenterologist said "In fact, virtually all the individuals we found were non-Hispanic Caucasians." But previous research in Mexico had indicated that celiac disease could be just as common there as in the US.

"So that is something we don't fully understand," said Dr. Rubio-Tapia.

The study revealed that around 1.6 million people across the country were on a gluten-free diet even though they did not have the disease.

When a person with celiac disease consumes gluten, a protein found in wheat, rye and barley, the individual's immune system attacks the small intestine, inhibiting the absorption of essential nutrients into the body. If the disease is undiagnosed and untreated, it could lead to the development of other autoimmune disorders, as well as osteoporosis, infertility, neurological conditions and in rare cases, cancer.

Persons with this disease are advised to follow a gluten-free diet as part of treatment.

The study was published in the American Journal of Gastroenterology in July.

by RTT Staff Writer

For comments and feedback: editorial@rttnews.com

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