Until the 1980s, coeliac disease was considered to be a rare disease, but in the 1990s it became clear that it was a frequent condition. Recently, it was suggested to affect 1 out of 100 subjects in the Western world. To understand what the true prevalence of coeliac disease is in the general population, we conducted a systematic review of published papers. The overall prevalence of coeliac disease in the general population appears to be around 1/160 (6.2‰), but this figure varies widely according to the diagnostic criteria used in the original papers. Prevalence obtained with tissue transglutaminase antibodies only was markedly higher than that obtained through a histological diagnosis. We conclude that the prevalence of coeliac disease in the general population has been over-estimated. This is mainly due to tissue transglutaminase antibodies being used as the only diagnostic tool.