• Antigliadin antibodies;
  • antiendomysium antibodies;
  • coeliac disease;
  • epidemiology;
  • screening

Background: Recent studies suggest that coeliac disease (CD) is one of the commonest, life-long disorders in Italy. The aims of this multicentre work were: (a) to establish the prevalence of CD on a nationwide basis; and (b) to characterize the CD clinical spectrum in Italy. Patients and methods: Fifteen centres screened 17201 students aged 6–15 years (68.6% of the eligible population) by the combined determination of serum IgG- and IgA-antigliadin antibody (AGA) test; 1289 (7.5%) were IgG and/or IgA-AGA positive and were recalled for the second-level investigation; 111 of them met the criteria for the intestinal biopsy: IgA-AGA positivity and/or AEA positivity or IgG-AGA positivity plus serum IgA deficiency. Results: Intestinal biopsy was performed on 98 of the 111 subjects. CD was diagnosed in 82 subjects (75 biopsy proven, 7 not biopsied but with associated AGA and AEA positivity). Most of the screening-detected coeliac patients showed low-grade intensity illness often associated with decreased psychophysical well-being. There were two AEA negative cases with associated CD and IgA deficiency. The prevalence of undiagnosed CD was 4.77 × 1000 (95% CI 3.79–5.91), 1 in 210 subjects. The overall prevalence of CD, including known CD cases, was 5.44 × 1000 (95% CI 4.57–6.44), 1 in 184 subjects. The ratio of known to undiagnosed CD cases was 1 in 7. Conclusions: These findings confirm that, in Italy, CD is one of the most common chronic disorders showing a wide and heterogeneous clinical spectrum. Most CD cases remain undiagnosed unless actively searched.