July 1, 2009 -- Celiac disease -- the digestive disorder treated by banning wheat and other grains containing gluten from the diet -- is four times more common in the U.S. today than it was 50 years ago, a study shows.
The study by Mayo Clinic researchers also linked undiagnosed and untreated celiac disease with an increased risk for earlier death.
Even with increased awareness about gluten-free diets and celiac, the disease remains underdiagnosed, experts say.
"We believe that only about 5% of people with celiac disease know they have it," University of Chicago Celiac Disease Center Director Stefano Guandalini, MD, tells WebMD. "Many of these people have no symptoms, but many do have symptoms that are not recognized for what they are."
Joseph A. Murray, MD, lead author of the study, says in a news release that celiac disease now affects about one in 100 people in the U.S.
Celiac disease is a digestive disorder in both children and adults. When people with celiac disease eat foods that contain gluten, an inflammatory reaction occurs that can damage the small intestine and inhibit the absorption of nutrients.