Background: Celiac disease (CD) is a major public health problem with estimated 1-3% prevalence in the general population. In recent years an increase in CD prevalence has been reported both in Sweden and worldwide. This study aimed at examining the annual incidence rate of biopsy-proven celiac disease among children in Sweden over a 36-year period, to assess variations by age, sex and birth cohort, and to assess the clinical impact of these changes.
Methods: The National Swedish Childhood CD Register was used to identify 9107 children aged 0-14.9 years who were diagnosed with CD during the period 1973 to 2009. From 1973 to 1990 the register covered 15% of the nation, this increased to 40% during 1991-1997; a full national coverage was obtained from 1998 onwards. Estimations for the annual incidence rate, cumulative incidence and clinical impact by age groups, calendar month and birth cohorts were made.
Results: CD incidence is continuing to increase in the child population aged 2-14.9 years. A continued variation in CD incidence was observed in children aged 0-1.9 years, characterized by a marked decrease in most recent years. The median age at diagnosis has increased from 1.0 year in the 1970s to 6.8 years in 2009. The average number of new cases has risen from ~200 during 1973-1983 to ~600 during 2004-2009. In the birth cohorts of 2000-2002 the cumulative incidence even exceeded that of the epidemic cohorts at comparable ages. The highest cumulative incidence was observed in the birth cohorts of 1985-1995 and 2000-2002.
Conclusions: CD risk varies between birth cohorts, suggesting cyclic environmental and/or lifestyle risk factors in CD etiology. More research on underlying risk factors is required in order to move forward with preventive strategies.