The independent consensus panel, composed of both practitioners and researchers in relevant fields of medicine, came to these conclusions following their review of the available medical literature related to celiac disease.
As well as drawing conclusions about the extent and under-diagnosis of the disease, the panel has drawn up recommendations for the appropriate diagnosis and management of celiac disease.
According to the consensus panel, celiac disease, previously thought to be rare, may affect as many as 3 million Americans.
This equates to a prevalence of 0.5 to 1 % of the U.S. population, and is a figure 10 times higher than previously estimated.
"We know that celiac disease is caused by an immune response to the gluten in certain common grains, so we have a very effective treatment — a gluten-free diet — but if physicians don't recognize when to test for the disease, patients are going to suffer needlessly", said Charles Elson, MD, of the University of Alabama at Birmingham, and chair of the consensus panel.
He added, "Because the disease has been thought to be rare, testing for it may not occur to many physicians. We hope that this conference will help to increase physician awareness."
The panel found that increasing physician awareness of the various manifestations of celiac disease and appropriate use of available testing strategies may lead to earlier diagnosis and better outcomes for celiac patients.
The panel also identified six elements they feel are essential to treating celiac disease once it is diagnosed:
C - Consultation with a skilled dietitian
E - Education about the disease
L - Lifelong adherence to a gluten-free diet
I - Identification and treatment of nutritional deficiencies
A - Access to an advocacy group
C - Continuous long-term follow-up