Edinburgh, Fife & East Scotland

Child coeliac numbers in Scotland at 'record level'

Image caption The driving force of coeliac disease is a reaction to foods containing gluten, including wheat

The number of children in Scotland with the digestive disorder, coeliac disease, may have reached record levels, according to researchers.

Scientists have found coeliac disease affects six times more children living in Scotland now than it did in 1990.

The genetic disorder is triggered when a virus causes the immune system to attack the lining of the intestine.

Edinburgh University and Queen Margaret University analysed health records of children from south east Scotland.

The children, aged under 16, had been newly diagnosed with the condition between 1990 and 2009.

The team, based at the Royal Hospital for Sick Children in Edinburgh, found the rate of children being newly diagnosed with Coeliac disease rose from 1.7 in every 100,000 children in 1990-1994 to 11.8 per 100,000 children in 2005-2009.

Coeliac disease only affects those who carry the gene for the condition.

It is triggered by what doctors call an "infective hit", often a viral infection such as gastroenteritis, causing the immune system to attack the lining of the intestines.

Damage can cause symptoms such as weight loss, abdominal pain and stunted growth, although doctors said that in many older children and adults recurrent abdominal pain may be the only symptom.

Experts said the driving force of the condition was a reaction to foods containing gluten, including wheat, barley and rye cereals.

The Edinburgh team said there were a number of possible reasons for the rise in Coeliac disease cases.

Factors could include changing patterns of childhood infection because of ongoing improvements in healthcare, as well as an increase in the incidence of related autoimmune conditions - including Coeliac disease and Type 1 diabetes.

Improved tests

Dr Peter Gillett, of Edinburgh University's department of child life and health, said: "This study confirms a trend we have seen on a daily basis in our local area of Lothian, Fife and Borders.

"It also confirms the need to look further at factors influencing why we are seeing more patients with Coeliac disease. It is not only because people are more aware of the disease nor is it thanks to our improved tests.

"Although the number of patients that we are diagnosing with the disease is increasing, it is well short of the number of cases out there, as screening the general population would pick up around one in 100 people.

"The increase in pick-up has implications for families and the support from healthcare they require to maintain a strict lifelong gluten-free lifestyle once the diagnosis is made."

The research has been published in the journal Paediatrics.

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