Many people have celiac disease but they do not know it.According to official estimates, there are over more than 400 thousand men and women suffering from celiac disease without this disease ever having been diagnosed, more than 70% of celiac expected. In particular, the disease mainly affects the female sex. On May 22 ended the week of Celiac Disease, which was promoted by Aic, the Italian Association of celiac disease, to raise awareness about the disease.
The global and nation impact of celiac disease is 1%. Therefore, in Italy about 600 thousand people suffer from it, but only just over 164 thousand are aware of it. The finding is reported in the “Annual Report to Parliament on celiac disease” that the Ministry of Health has made in 2014, in reference to the previous year. A number, which in fact has increased almost 16 thousand units in comparison to 2012. The ratio of males to females is 1 to 2, with the proportion rising 1 in 3 in 12 Italian regions.
Celiac disease is a disease caused by the organism’s intolerance to gliadin, a protein contained in gluten and derivatives (malt, barley) that occurs in genetically predisposed individuals. The gluten introduced induces an immune response which results in an inflammation of the mucosa of the small intestine, leading to the destruction of the villi, which are the elements responsible for the absorption of various nutrients. In the past, it was mistakenly believed that celiac disease was a childhood disease, however, it can occur at any age. Since there are no known factors that cause it, the only effective treatment is by eliminating foods that contain gluten.
Why is celiac disease referred to as a sort of silent disease? “Diagnosing celiac disease is often difficult because the symptoms are nonspecific; the classic symptoms such as malabsorption, loss of weight, diarrhea and abdominal pain, are in fact only the tip of the iceberg of the clinical manifestations. On the other hand, a majority of patients may also present more subtle symptoms that, in the absence of alterations of laboratory tests, are often attributed to other diseases, usually functional, such as irritable bowel syndrome,” says Dr. Paoletti Preatoni, gastroenterologist and digestive endoscopist at Humanitas hospital.
Celiac disease left untreated in women may increase the risk of infertility
“Often the diagnosis is delayed because the patient turns to different doctors or because the doctor himself has not provided a clear clinical picture. However – says the specialist – in recent years, the diagnosis has made much progress with both more effective campaigns and strengthening the screening process in relatives of patients with celiac disease.”
What makes celiac disease unrecognizable and therefore, left untreated? “Naturally, the disease worsens. Being that celiac disease is an autoimmune disease, the introduction of gluten continuously stimulates the reaction of the immune system, resulting in a progression and an amplification of the damage to the intestinal mucosa; these mild symptoms can become more severe, giving rise to complications related to malabsorption of nutrients, which include anemia, severe osteoporosis, hair loss, brittle nails, blindness, and so on,” adds the doctor. “Finally, celiac disease left untreated predisposes to a higher incidence of cancers of the gastrointestinal tract. ”
Since it affects more women than men, what are the risks that first present themselves? “If celiac disease is left untreated in a woman of childbearing age, this increases the risk of infertility, miscarriage and premature birth or low birth weight babies. Also during pregnancy, physiological conditions such as anemia tend worsen, “concludes Dr. Preatoni. In March, the AIC launched the guide “Women & Celiac Disease” with the aim of triggering a new approach to diagnosis to help doctors and women themselves to identify the possibility of celiac disease, even in the absence of the most common gastrointestinal symptoms.