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Istituto Superiore di Sanità
EpiCentro - Epidemiology for public health
Epidemiology for public health - ISS

About coeliac disease

Coeliac disease is a permanent autoinflammatory enteropathy with autoimmune features triggered by the ingestion of gluten in genetically predisposed individuals. Gluten is the alcohol-soluble protein fraction from common wheat, barley and rye. This protein complex, which is mainly found in wheat-based foods, such as bread, pasta, pizza, biscuits and sweet or savoury snacks, causes an abnormal inflammatory response in the small intestine. The immune response results in a chronic inflammation that, in turn, damages the intestinal tissues and leads to the disappearance of the intestinal villi, which are important for nutrient absorption. The impact of coeliac disease on health is therefore both direct and indirect, as people who suffer from this condition are unable to absorb nutrients and at risk of malnutrition.


If it is not diagnosed promptly and treated properly, coeliac disease may have major, and sometimes irreversible, consequences.



Coeliac disease is a multifactorial condition, in that two factors are required for its development: gluten and genetic predisposition. Worldwide, only 30% of the genetically predisposed population who eat gluten will end up developing the disease sometime in their life. There are triggering factors, but their nature is still unknown. Some viral infections and the amount of gluten introduced at weaning are thought to play an important role, but no definitive data are currently available.


Publication date: 2 January 2021