A primary care cross-sectional study of undiagnosed adult coeliac disease

Eur J Gastroenterol Hepatol. 2003 Apr;15(4):407-13. doi: 10.1097/00042737-200304000-00012.


Objectives: To establish the prevalence of coeliac disease in the general population and in specific conditions, such as irritable bowel syndrome, iron deficiency anaemia, fatigue and other coeliac-related conditions.

Methods: Primary-care-based cross-sectional study using immunoglobulins, IgA/IgG antigliadin antibodies and endomysial antibodies to initially recognize coeliac disease. A total of 1200 volunteers were recruited from January 1999 to June 2001 from five general practices in South Yorkshire, UK. Any participant with a positive IgA antigliadin antibody, positive endomysial antibody, or only IgG antigliadin antibody in the presence of IgA deficiency was offered a small-bowel biopsy to confirm the diagnosis of coeliac disease.

Results: Twelve new cases of coeliac disease were diagnosed from 1200 samples. The prevalence of coeliac disease in this primary care population sample is 1% (95% CI 0.4-1.3%). The prevalence of coeliac disease was 3.3% (4/123) in participants with irritable bowel syndrome, 4.7% (3/64) in participants with iron deficiency anaemia, and 3.3% (3/92) in participants with fatigue.

Conclusions: This study describes the prevalence of undiagnosed adult coeliac disease in primary care patients with irritable bowel syndrome, iron deficiency anaemia and fatigue. Underdiagnosis of coeliac disease is common in primary care. A case-finding approach would avoid delays in diagnosis and the associated morbidity or potential complications of coeliac disease. A low threshold for serological screening of patients with coeliac-associated symptoms or conditions would be an optimal strategy.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Anemia, Iron-Deficiency / complications
  • Antibodies / blood
  • Biopsy
  • Celiac Disease / complications
  • Celiac Disease / diagnosis
  • Celiac Disease / epidemiology*
  • Celiac Disease / immunology
  • Colonic Diseases, Functional / complications
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • England / epidemiology
  • Enzyme-Linked Immunosorbent Assay
  • Family Practice*
  • Female
  • Gliadin / immunology
  • Humans
  • Immunoglobulin A / blood
  • Immunoglobulin G / blood
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Prevalence


  • Antibodies
  • Immunoglobulin A
  • Immunoglobulin G
  • Gliadin