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Gut. 2003 Jul;52(7):960-5.

Seroprevalence, correlates, and characteristics of undetected coeliac disease in England.

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  • 1University of Nottingham, Division of Epidemiology and Public Health, Medical School, Queen's Medical Centre, Nottingham NG7 2UH, UK.



To examine the seroprevalence, correlates, and characteristics of undetected coeliac disease in a large adult population sample in Cambridge, UK.


The Cambridge General Practice Health Study invited individuals from 12 general practices, aged 45-76 years, to attend for a health survey that included a bone density measurement, between 1990 and 1995. A total of 7550 participants' serum samples were tested for antiendomysial antibody (EMA). Seroprevalence of undetected coeliac disease was based on EMA positivity. Differences between EMA positive and negative participants of various physiological correlates and reported characteristics were estimated by multivariate logistic and linear regression and adjusted for age, sex, social class, and smoking behaviour.


The seroprevalence of undetected coeliac disease in this general population sample aged 45-76 was 1.2% (95% confidence interval (CI) 0.9-1.4). EMA positive participants (n=87) were on average slightly lighter by 2.2 kg (p=0.08), were more likely to have reported their general health as being "good or excellent" (odds ratio (OR) 1.76 (95% CI 0.90-3.46)), and were less likely to report being a current smoker (OR for current versus never 0.36 (95% CI 0.14-0.90)) than EMA negative participants. EMA positivity was associated with an 8% reduction in mean serum cholesterol (0.5 mmol/l; p<0.01) and reductions in mean haemoglobin (0.3 g/dl; p<0.01), total protein (1.0 g/l; p<0.05), and corrected serum calcium (0.02 mmol/l; p<0.05). There was an increased risk of osteoporosis in EMA positive participants (OR 3.1 (95% CI 1.3-7.2)) and of mild anaemia (OR 4.6 (95% CI 2.5-8.2)) compared with EMA negative participants.


Undetected coeliac disease is likely to affect approximately 1% of the population of England aged 45-76 years, a value similar to several other countries. Those affected report "better health" but they do have an increased risk of osteoporosis and mild anaemia. In contrast, they have a favourable cardiovascular risk profile that may afford protection from ischaemic heart disease and stroke.

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