We have reviewed the clinical records of 226 consecutive adult patients with celiac sprue diagnosed in our department from 1972 to 1989. The study period has been divided into three subperiods of 6 years each (1972-1977, 1978-1983, 1984-1989). From the first to the third subperiod a significant increase in the number of new diagnoses and of the proportion of patients recognized by minor symptoms has been observed. These patients represent 50% of our series in the last 3 years of the study and 70% in 1989. Diagnosing subclinical forms of celiac sprue has significantly lowered the mean age at diagnosis and the female/male ratio. First-degree relatives of celiac patients; subjects who had a gluten-free diet for a period during childhood; patients with short stature, anemia, or amenorrhea of no obvious cause; or patients with unexplained immunological abnormalities are the groups in which most patients with subclinical celiac sprue have been found and in which potential patients should be sought. Helpful diagnostic tools include antigliadin antibody testing and the observation of absent or reduced Kerckring folds in the descending duodenum in the course of upper gastrointestinal endoscopy.