Sweden is one of the countries with the highest number of celiac disease (gluten sensitivity) in the world. Now new studies show that this disease appears later in life, a change that’s difficult for the hospitals to handle. Only a third of all those with the disease actually get diagnosed. Since the 1990’s the number of children with celiac disease has increased from 0.5% to nearly five times as many in Sweden.
The development has been studied, yet nobody knows for sure why the number is so high in the nation. And the mystery doesn’t end there. It used to be that the disease was discovered primarily in small children, but in Sweden today the celiac disease is found more often in adults. Pediatrician and celiac disease expert Lars Stenhammar at Vrinnevisjukhuset in Norrköping says he notices a marked difference: ”We don’t see really sick infants today, now it’s older children that don’t feel well or who don’t grow the way they should that come here.” And Stenhammar’s view is supported by new, so far unpublished, reaseach from Umeå University that daily DN has looked at, that shows the median age for children diagnosed with celiacs disease: It has gone from one year in the early 1990’s to seven years today. In the mid 1980’s there was a period when some unsuitable diet advice was given, and when that was corrected the number of gluten intolerant infants went down, yet Sweden still has a record high level of the disease when compared to other countries. ”Around half of all Swedes have the genetic predispositions for celiac disease,” says Anneli Ivarsson, pediatrician and celiac researcher at Umeå University. ”More than previously thought. Perhaps the delay in age has to do with us being better at protecting infants, but that we later in life are exposed to something that propels the disease.”
One problem is the great amount of flour that Swedes consume. Anneli Ivarsson is also critical to the major bread producers who put extra gluten in their products to make the bread fluffier and easier to sell. ”It’s terrible that they do that in a country where the problems with gluten are so numerous. In a few decades I believe we will look back and say, ’oh dear, they were insane,’” she says. According to the researchers at Umeå University only a third of those with the disease are actually diagnosed. And those who do get the diagnosis must wait for it an average of ten years. Medical advice warns that even experienced doctors can miss the disease. This is not so surprising perhaps, when you take a look at the list of symptoms: Diarrhea, fatigue, weight loss. If you have any of these symptoms, then you may be gluten sensitive. Same thing if you have blisters in the mouth, pain in your bones, or a hard time conceiving. ”The symptoms change as you grow older,” Ivarsson explains. ”That’s why both research and health care must put focus on grown-ups and older people. If you start having problems that may be related to gluten seinsitivity, then you need to get tested right away. No matter you age,” is Ivarsson’s advice.