OBJECTIVE: The demographic, clinical, and epidemiological features of subclinical/silent celiac disease in Italy were analyzed in a multicenter study carried out with the participation of 42 centers, in the years between 1990 and 1994. METHODS: One thousand twenty-six subclinical/silent patients (644 children and 382 adults, 702 women and 324 men) were considered eligible for the study. RESULTS: The prevalence of the subclinical/silent form increased significantly during the study both in adults (p <0.001) and in children (p <0.005), but its prevalence was always lower (p <0.001) in children than in adults. This increase appears more likely due to a greater diagnostic awareness and to a better use of screening than to a higher number of subclinical/silent cases. Whereas in 1990 a significantly higher proportion (p <0.001) of subclinical/silent celiac patients was diagnosed in Northern Italy rather than in Southern-Insular Italy, both in adults (46.7% vs 17.2%) and in children (22.0% vs 9.0%), in 1994 such a difference was no longer conspicuous. Both in children and in adults, iron-deficiency anemia appeared to be the most frequent extraintestinal symptom, followed by short stature in children and cutaneous lesions of dermatitis herpetiformis in adults. In 25.9% of the cases another disease was present, with a significantly higher frequency (p <0.05) in adults (30.1%) than in children (20.7%). Diabetes and atopy appeared to be the most frequently associated conditions both in children and in adults. CONCLUSIONS: This study has provided an analysis of the largest series of subclinical/silent celiac disease reported to date. In Italy, this form is most frequently recognized in adults, and prospective studies will clarify whether the lower frequency observed in children is a real or apparent phenomenon.
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