University of Chicago Celiac Disease Program
Facts and Figures 2003

Celiac disease is an inherited autoimmune disorder that affects the digestive process of the small intestine. When a person who has celiac disease consumes gluten, a protein found in wheat, rye and barley, the individual’s immune system responds by attacking the small intestine and inhibiting the absorption of important nutrients into the body. Undiagnosed and untreated, celiac disease can lead to the development of other autoimmune disorders, as well as osteoporosis, infertility, neurological conditions and in rare cases, cancer.

Prevalence of celiac disease in the United States

    • In average healthy people: 1 in 133
    • In people with related symptoms: 1 in 56
    • In people with first-degree relatives (parent, child, sibling) who are celiac: 1 in 22
    • In people with second-degree relatives (aunt, uncle, cousin) who are celiac: 1 in 39
    • Estimated prevalence for African-, Hispanic- and Asian-Americans: 1 in 236
  • In the landmark prevalence study on celiac disease, investigators determined that 60% of children and 41% of adults diagnosed during the study were asymptomatic (without any symptoms).
  • During the prevalence study, researchers found that 21% of patients with a positive anti-endomysial antibody test could not receive a biopsy due to the refusal of their physician to perform the procedure or the insurance company to pay for it.
  • Only 35% of newly diagnosed patients had chronic diarrhea, dispelling the myth that diarrhea must be present to diagnose celiac disease.

Source: A multi-center study on the sero-prevalence of celiac disease in the United States among both at risk and not at risk groups. Fasano et. al., Archives of Internal Medicine. February 2003.

Source: Characteristics of adult celiac disease in the USA: results of a national survey. Green, P.H. American Journal of Gastroenterology, 2001.

Age at diagnosis

Chance of developing autoimmune condition

4 – 12 years of age


12 – 20 years of age


Over 20 years of age


Source: Duration of exposure to gluten and risk for autoimmune disorders in patients with celiac disease. SIGEP Study Group for Autoimmune Disorders in Celiac Disease. Ventura A, Gastroenterology 1999 Aug;117(2):297-303.

Chronic Illness in the United States

Below is a list of some commonly known chronic illnesses and the number of people affected in the United States:

Source: National Institutes of Health.

Putting Celiac Disease in Perspective


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Updated 25Feb03