A team for the Mayo Clinic, led by gastroenterologist Dr Joseph Murray, compared blood samples gathered at Warren Air Force Base (AFB) in Wyoming between 1948 and 1954 for the antibody that people with coeliac disease produce in reaction to gluten with blood test results from two recently collected sets from Olmsted County, Minnesota. One matched the ages of those from the 1948 testing at the time of the blood draw, and the other matched their birth years. Researchers found that young people today are 4.5 times more likely to have coeliac disease than young people were in the 1950s, while those whose birth years matched the Warren AFB participants were four times more likely to have the disease.
The study also found that subjects who did not know they had coeliac disease were nearly four times more likely than coeliac-free subjects to have died during the 45 years of follow-up.
‘Coeliac disease is unusual, but it's no longer rare’ says Dr Murray. ‘Until recently, the standard approach to finding coeliac disease has been to wait for people to complain of symptoms and to come to the doctor for investigation. This study suggests that we may need to consider looking for coeliac disease in the general population, more like we do in testing for cholesterol or blood pressure.’
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