CAMBRIDGE, Mass., Aug. 27, 2013 /PRNewswire/ -- Researchers have developed a new approach to detecting unrecognized cases of celiac disease in the community, revealing this immune disorder is far more common than previously recognized. In a study of more than 2500 adults, the researchers combined traditional antibody testing (measuring the immune response to gluten) with an assessment of specific genetic risk markers. They found that more than half of the subjects had genetic risk factors for developing celiac disease. This newly developed testing strategy also showed that celiac disease potentially affected at least one in 60 women and one in 80 men. The research is published online today in the journal BMC Medicine. One of the researchers, Dr. Jason Tye-Din from the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute, who also leads the Celiac Clinic at The Royal Melbourne Hospital, said the study indicated that the combination of a genetic test with a panel of antibody tests should increase the accuracy of diagnosis, decrease overall medical costs by reducing invasive diagnostic tests, and avoid medically unnecessary use of a gluten-free diet. "Currently, bowel biopsies are recommended for anybody with positive antibody tests," Dr. Tye-Din said. "In this study, the inclusion of a simple genetic test helped identify a substantial number of people whose antibody tests were falsely positive and who did not actually require a bowel biopsy to test for the possibility of celiac disease." Celiac disease is caused by an inappropriate immune response to dietary gluten. Gluten can be found in wheat, rye, barley and oats. When gluten is consumed, it can cause a wide range of complaints from chronic tiredness, iron deficiency, osteoporosis, itchy rash, and headaches to various digestive symptoms. Celiac disease damages the lining of the small intestine and can lead to significant medical complications such as autoimmune disease, infertility, liver failure and cancer. Celiac disease usually develops in childhood and is life-long, but early diagnosis and treatment can reduce the risk of adverse health complications.