Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

Increasing prevalence and high incidence of celiac disease in elderly people: A population-based study

Anitta Vilppula1, Katri Kaukinen23, Liisa Luostarinen1, Ilkka Krekelä4, Heikki Patrikainen4, Raisa Valve5, Markku Mäki6 and Pekka Collin23*

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Neurology, Päijät-Häme Central Hospital, Lahti, Finland

2 Department of Gastroenterology and Alimentary Tract Surgery, Tampere University Hospital, Tampere, Finland

3 Medical School, University of Tampere, Tampere, Finland

4 Department Internal Medicine, Päijät-Häme Central Hospital, Lahti, Finland

5 University of Helsinki, Department of Education and Development in Lahti, Helsinki, Finland

6 Paediatric Research Centre, University of Tampere and Tampere University Hospital, Tampere, Finland

For all author emails, please log on.

BMC Gastroenterology 2009, 9:49  doi:10.1186/1471-230X-9-49

Published: 29 June 2009



Celiac disease may emerge at any age, but little is known of its appearance in elderly people. We evaluated the prevalence of the condition in individuals over 55 years of age, and determined the incidence of biopsy-proven celiac disease (CDb) and celiac disease including seropositive subjects for anti-tissue transglutaminase antibodies (CDb+s).


The study based on prevalence figures in 2815 randomly selected subjects who had undergone a clinical examination and serologic screening for celiac disease in 2002. A second screening in the same population was carried out in 2005, comprising now 2216 individuals. Positive tissue transglutaminase antibodies were confirmed with small bowel biopsy.


Within three years the prevalence of CDb increased from 2.13 to 2.34%, and that of CDb+s from 2.45 to 2.70%. Five new cases were found among patients previously seronegative; two had minor abdominal symptoms and three were asymptomatic. The incidence of celiac disease in 2002–2005 was 0.23%, giving an annual incidence of 0.08% in this population.


The prevalence of celiac disease was high in elderly people, but the symptoms were subtle. Repeated screening detected five biopsy-proven cases in three years, indicating that the disorder may develop even in the elderly. Increased alertness to the disorder is therefore warranted.