Background: The number of coeliac disease diagnoses has increased in the recent past and according to screening studies, the total prevalence of the disorder is around 1%.
Aim: To establish whether the increased number of coeliac disease cases reflects a true rise in disease frequency.
Methods: The total prevalence of coeliac disease was determined in two population-based samples representing the Finnish adult population in 1978-80 and 2000-01 and comprising 8000 and 8028 individuals, respectively. Both clinically-diagnosed coeliac disease patients and previously unrecognized cases identified by serum endomysial antibodies were taken into account.
Results: Only two (clinical prevalence of 0.03%) patients had been diagnosed on clinical grounds in 1978-80, in contrast to 32 (0.52%) in 2000-01. The prevalence of earlier unrecognized cases increased statistically significantly from 1.03% to 1.47% during the same period. This yields a total prevalence of coeliac disease of 1.05% in 1978-80 and 1.99% in 2000-01.
Conclusions: The total prevalence of coeliac disease seems to have doubled in Finland during the last two decades, and the increase cannot be attributed to the better detection rate. The environmental factors responsible for the increasing prevalence of the disorder are issues for further studies.