Background: Up to 50% of women with untreated coeliac disease experience miscarriage or an unfavourable outcome of pregnancy. In most cases, after 6-12 months of a gluten free diet, no excess of unfavourable outcome of pregnancy is observed. The prevalence of undiagnosed coeliac disease among pregnant women is not known.
Aim: To determine the prevalence of untreated coeliac disease among women attending the obstetrics-gynaecological department.
Methods: Endomysial antibodies, which are specific and sensitive for coeliac disease, were evaluated in all women attending the obstetrics-gynaecology department of a large city hospital over a 90 day period.
Results: Of 845 pregnant women screened, 12 were identified as having coeliac disease. Three had previously been diagnosed but were not following a gluten free diet. The remaining nine underwent a small intestinal biopsy, which confirmed the diagnosis. The outcome of pregnancy was unfavourable in seven of these 12 women. Six healthy babies were born with no problems after the women had been on a gluten free diet for one year.
Conclusions: Overall, 1 in 70 women was affected by coeliac disease, either not diagnosed (nine cases) or not treated (three cases). Their history of miscarriages, anaemia, low birth weight babies, and unfavourable outcome of pregnancy suggests that testing for coeliac disease should be included in the battery of tests prescribed for pregnant women. Coeliac disease is considerably more common than most of the diseases for which pregnant women are routinely screened. Unfavourable events associated with coeliac disease may be prevented by a gluten free diet.