Background: In the last few years the prevalence of celiac disease (CD) seems to have increased. It is clear that subclinical and silent CD exist in a large subgroup of the celiac population.
Methods: The aim of this study was to evaluate the prevalence of CD in an apparently healthy population. Blood samples were obtained from 1000 apparently healthy blood donors at Arnhem and Nijmegen Blood Donation Centers from January 1997 through April 1998. Sera from 660 blood donors were assayed for total IgA. By means of immunofluorescence, antibodies, including those to endomysium (EMA), were determined. Serum immunoglobulin levels (IgA) were assayed by means of nephelometry. All donors who had positive serology for EMA underwent small-intestinal biopsy.
Results: Of the 1000 healthy blood donors 3 had positive EMA. Small-intestinal biopsy of two of these showed subtotal villous atrophy (Marsh IIIb), and the third had intraepithelial lymphocytosis and crypt hyperplasia (Marsh II). The prevalence of gluten sensitivity was 1 of 330. Low IgA (0.60-0.23 g/l) in our study group was found in 9 of 660 (1%), but no one showed an IgA < or = 0.02 g/l.
Conclusion: Our study shows that the prevalence of gluten-sensitivity in apparently healthy blood donors is 3 of 1000, which suggests a high prevalence of CD in the Dutch population, in contrast to the results of the last published Dutch epidemiologic studies. The recorded prevalence will increase further with greater recognition of subclinical and asymptomatic forms detected by screening tests.