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Celiac disease, also known as gluten intolerance, is an inherited autoimmune disorder in which the delicate finger-like projections (villi) lining the wall of the small intestine become severely damaged from ingesting gluten and other proteins found in wheat, rye, and barley. During the digestive process the villi become shortened and flattened out, losing their ability to effectively absorb nutrients, resulting in potentially life-threatening nutritional deficiencies.

Who is Most Prone to Developing Celiac Disease?

Although previously believed to be a disorder primarily of infants and children, it is now clear that celiac disease can develop at any stage in life from infancy to adulthood, and can occur even in the elderly. Persons of European ancestry and women are more commonly affected, although recent studies show that celiac disease also affects Hispanic and Black populations, as well as Asian populations from India and Pakistan. It is rarely diagnosed in persons of Japanese or Chinese ancestry. The exact trigger for onset of the disease is still unknown. Celiac disease is the most common genetic disease in Europe. In the United States, approximately 1 out of every 133 Americans have celiac disease. About 9 out of 10 people who have celiac disease do not know they have it.