Introduction: Although the prevalence of celiac disease (CD) has been extensively investigated in recent years, an accurate estimate of CD frequency in the European population is still lacking. The aims of this study were: 1) to establish accurately the prevalence of CD in a large sample of the European population (Finland, Germany, Italy, and UK), including both children and adults; and 2) to investigate whether the prevalence of CD significantly varies between different areas of the European continent.
Materials and methods: Samples were drawn from the four populations. All 29,212 participants were tested for CD by tissue transglutaminase (tTG) antibody test. Positive and border-line findings were further tested for serum endomysial antibodies (EMA). All serological determinations were centrally performed. Small-bowel biopsies were recommended to autoantibody-positive individuals. Previously diagnosed cases were identified.
Results: The overall CD prevalence (previously diagnosed plus anti-tTG and EMA positives) was 1.0% (95% CI 0.9-1.1). In subjects aged 30-64 years CD prevalence was 2.4% in Finland (2.0-2.8), 0.3% in Germany (0.1-0.4), and 0.7% in Italy (0.4-1.0). Sixty-eight percent of antibody-positive individuals showed small-bowel mucosal changes typical for CD (Marsh II/III lesion).
Conclusions: CD is common in Europe. CD prevalence shows large unexplained differences in adult age across different European countries.