Coeliac disease is the most common form of food intolerance in the world. In Europe it affects around 1% of the adult population, ranging from 0.2% in Germany to 2-3 % in Finland and Sweden. The figures are the same in other countries around the world such as, for example, India. In the United States it affects around 1% of the population, the same as in Europe, while it falls to around 0.6% and 0.8% in Central and South America respectively, and is no higher than 0.5% in Oceania. Africa is one region of the planet that shows huge disparities: the data on its incidence show it as being between 0.5% in Egypt and 1% in Libya, but Africa also hosts the population with the highest percentage of coeliac disease in the world, the Saharawi (5-6 % in the area bordering Mauritania, Morocco and Algeria). This can be attributed to the consumption of large quantities of foods containing gluten (cuscus) as well as to a high incidence of HLA associated genetic disposition in the population. For a long time coeliac disease appeared to be a problem limited to Western societies, but these days, as the data prove, we know that this is not the case. Certain factors, in particular the globalization of food consumption, an environmental factor, have made coeliac disease one of the most common chronic conditions, present all around the world.
More than 280,000 Italian women are still unaware that they are suffering from coeliac disease. Coeliac disease affects twice as many women as men. The data in the latest report by the Parliamentary Commission on Coeliac Disease (Relazione al Parlamento sulla Celiachia), produced by the Health Ministry, state that only 115,000 women have been diagnosed. Coeliac disease, however, with an incidence of 1% across the Italian population and a male-female ratio of approximately 1:2, should now affect around 400,000 women, a number that is rising in line with the population. The male to female ratio that has been measured in Italy may reasonably be considered a global benchmark, caused by factors specific to women, who are generally more predisposed to immune system disorders.
“Our aim as an Association” states Elisabetta Tosi, Head of the Italian Coeliac Disease Association and a Women For Expo ambassador “is to reach the large numbers of people who are unaware they have a gluten intolerance, because the diagnosis is the first step towards finally starting to get better”.
In particular, as far as the gender most affected by this disease is concerned, the Scientific Committee of the AIC is working on a project entitled “Woman: osteoporosis, anaemia, fertility and pregnancy”, a new approach to diagnosis, whose aim is to improve awareness among women at risk from some of the less familiar symptoms of coeliac disease, including anaemia, infertility, early menopause, some problems during pregnancy and osteoporosis. It is often not easy to recognize coeliac disease as the cause of these symptoms and patients do not get diagnosed, and are therefore unable to understand the cause of their health problems and cure them with the only type of therapy currently available: the permanent removal of gluten from their diet.
To help women “know themselves” and find out whether they are suffering from coeliac disease even if they do not show the classic symptoms, AIC has produced a free guide (Donna&Celiachia) that can be downloaded from the association’s website www.celiachia.it/donnaeceliachia
The guide was officially launched on 8th March, International Women’s Day, and is currently available in digital format, although a print edition is also planned.
Using simple texts and infographics, the guide describes a series of conditions that should lead women to suspect they are suffering from coeliac disease and approach their doctor in order to run the necessary tests. The key aim remains reaching those seven out of ten women sufferers who are unaware of their condition and are therefore exposed to the consequences of undiagnosed coeliac disease, as the Head of the AIC explains: “Undiagnosed coeliac disease increases the risk of problems in pregnancy such as frequent miscarriages, intrauterine growth retardation, premature birth, low birth weight, caesarean section. If these conditions are present it is advisable to undergo clinical tests for coeliac disease, whereas self-diagnosis and embarking on a gluten-free diet without a confirmed diagnosis are to be avoided. Unfortunately increasing numbers of people think they have gained some benefit from an exclusion diet, due to the placebo effect. AIC invites anyone who thinks they may have a gluten intolerance to see a doctor in order to undergo the appropriate tests. Removing gluten from the diet before these tests have been done actually makes it impossible to verify and places the correct course of therapy at risk and with it the health