Researchers seeking to understand more about the epidemiology of celiac disease (CD) and dermatitis herpetiformis (DH) found a fourfold increase in the incidence of celiac disease in the United Kingdom over a 22-year period. There was also a 4% annual decrease in the incidence of dermatitis herpetiformis.

“These contrasts could reflect differences in diagnosis between CD (serological diagnosis and case finding) and DH (symptomatic presentation) or the possibility that diagnosing and treating CD prevents the development of DH,” the authors write.

Researchers identified patients with CD or DH via the Clinical Practice Research Datalink between 1990 and 2011. They then calculated incidence rates and prevalence, using age, sex, year, and region of residence.

Experts interviewed by BBC News offered an explanation for the CD increase: that clinicians have improved in properly diagnosing this disorder via a blood test. "We now have better, and more available, tests," lead study author Joe West of the University of Nottingham toldBBC.

Additionally, Anton Emmanuel, MD, a consultant gastroenterologist at the University College London, told BBC: "This [increase] is a diagnostic phenomenon, not an incidence phenomenon. It is exactly what we had anticipated."

Read the study online.