Coeliac disease is a condition in which the intestine has an abnormal immune reaction to gluten in the diet. Gluten is a protein found in wheat or related grains, and is found in many types of food. People with coeliac disease have to follow a strict gluten-free diet. Normally, immune cells are designed to protect the body against invaders, but in coeliac disease the body mistakenly perceives gluten as the enemy and attacks it. In the process, the small intestine becomes inflamed and impaired in absorbing nutrients.
When the intestine is damaged, the body cannot absorb all the necessary nutrients from food, so people with celiac disease may also suffer from various nutritional deficiencies, such as: Poor absorption of vitamin K, responsible for blood clotting, means that people with coeliac disease bruise easily Scaling skin, due to poor absorption of vitamin A Muscle spasms, due to poor absorption of vitamin D and calcium Osteoporosis, due to poor absorption of calcium and vitamin D. If left untreated, other complications may arise. For instance, there is an increased risk of cancers of the intestine in unmanaged coeliac disease.
The only treatment generally required for coeliac disease is to follow a strict gluten-free diet. Because this can be difficult to achieve however, consultation with a dietician may be useful. Symptoms normally improve within days of eliminating gluten from the diet and the small intestine can be completely healed within a few months. However, it is important to remain on a gluten-free diet even after symptoms have disappeared, in order to stop the disease returning. In rare cases, a short course of corticosteroids may be required to reduce the inflammation caused by gluten. Treatment for associated problems may also be necessary.
Our cross-sectional design study demonstrates that celiac disease prevalence in the Italian general population is 4.9 per 1000 (95% CI 2.8–7.8), increasing up to 5.7 per 1000 (95% CI 3.5–8.8) with the inclusion of potential cases.