Coeliac cases in children triple in UK over 20 years

Children from less well-off backgrounds only half as likely to be diagnosed, study finds

Close-up of cells with coeliac disease: the increase in cases  is largely, but not entirely, put down to better testing and greater knowledge of coeliac disease. Photograph: Getty Images

Close-up of cells with coeliac disease: the increase in cases is largely, but not entirely, put down to better testing and greater knowledge of coeliac disease. Photograph: Getty Images

 

The number of children in the United Kingdom diagnosed with coeliac disease has tripled in the last 20 years, but poor children suffering from the disease are only half as likely to be spotted by doctors as those living in richer neighbourhoods.

The findings from the University of Nottingham followed an examination of anonymised record details of nearly 2.1 million children up to the age of 18 registered with GP practices between 1993 and 2012.

The increase in numbers is largely, but not entirely, put down to better testing and greater knowledge of coeliac disease – which leaves sufferers with diarrhoea, bloating, tiredness and often severe stomach pain. It is an autoimmune reaction to dietary gluten from wheat, barley and rye.

“But this does not explain the differences in diagnoses among children from different socioeconomic backgrounds,” say the Nottingham researchers in their findings published by the BMJ Open’s Archives of Disease in Childhood.

Diagnosed

Laila TataThe Irish Times

A 2009 study in the south of England found that children of parents working in low-paid, manual jobs had a fourfold risk of coeliac disease compared with the children of parents working in professional occupations.

Saying that further studies were needed before conclusions could be drawn, the researchers suggested doctors try more often to diagnose children living in the most deprived areas on the basis of symptoms, rather than by using expensive biopsies.

The number of children up to two years of age diagnosed with coeliac disease stayed “roughly constant” between 1993/1997 and 2008/2012; but the number of cases reported from those aged between three and 18 tripled.

The evidence collected so far suggests that up to 1 per cent per cent of all children in Britain suffer from some degree of coeliac disease.