FRIDAY, Aug. 19 (HealthDay News) -- Complaints of celiac disease are on the rise in the United States, with more and more people growing ill from exposure to products containing gluten.
Nearly five times as many people have celiac disease today than did during the 1950s, according to one recent study. Another report found that the rate of celiac disease has doubled every 15 years since 1974 and is now believed to affect one in every 133 U.S. residents.
"It's quite widespread," said Dr. Alessio Fasano, director of the Center for Celiac Research and the Mucosal Biology Research Center at the University of Maryland School of Medicine. "We thought there were regional differences in the past, but now we know it's everywhere."
That increased incidence rate has left researchers scrambling to figure out why more people are developing the chronic digestive disorder. Doctors still can't explain the trend, but they are making some headway testing a number of hypotheses.
"There are many theories out there, not all independent of each other and not all of them true," Fasano said.
Celiac disease is an inherited autoimmune disorder that causes the body's immune system to attack the small intestine, according to the U.S. National Institutes of Health and the University of Chicago Celiac Disease Center. The attack is prompted by exposure to gluten, a protein found in such grains as wheat, rye and barley.
The disease interferes with proper digestion and, in children, prompts symptoms that include bloating, vomiting, diarrhea or constipation. Adults with celiac disease are less likely to show digestive symptoms but will develop problems such as anemia, fatigue, osteoporosis or arthritis as the disorder robs their bodies of vital nutrients.
Awareness of celiac disease has grown in recent years, evidenced by the growing number of gluten-free foods on the market. However,
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