While it’s been known that the incidence of celiac is on the rise, it hasn’t been clear whether doctors are simply looking for it more often, and therefore finding more cases. But new research from the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., suggests that the disease is four times more common today than it was in the 1950s, and not just because doctors are more likely to test for it.
People with celiac disease suffer an autoimmune response when they eat anything with gluten, a protein found mostly in wheat.
The trend is concerning because celiac disease is often misdiagnosed as irritable bowel syndrome or another condition. It’s been estimated that for every person diagnosed with celiac disease, another 30 people have it but haven’t been diagnosed. Once diagnosed, the disease can be managed by eating a gluten-free diet. But when people don’t know they have the problem and continue to eat gluten-containing products, the intestines become severely damaged, leading to long-term health problems and a higher risk of dying compared to people who don’t have celiac.