Photo: CC--Miles Goodhew 06/01/2016 - People with potential celiac disease (PCD) have blood and genetic markers for celiac disease, but show little or no damage to the small intestinal mucosa.

A research team recently conducted a prospective study to learn more about how the disease progresses in these individuals. The research team included U Volta, G Caio, F Giancola, KJ Rhoden, E Ruggeri, E Boschetti, V Stanghellini, and R De Giorgio. They are all affiliated with the departments of Medical and Surgical Sciences and Digestive System, Centro di Ricerca Biomedica Applicata at the University of Bologna, St Orsola-Malpighi Hospital, Bologna, Italy.

For their study the team collected data from 59 women and 18 men, averaging 33 years of age. The patients were all diagnosed with potential celiac disease, based on blood tests and HLA type, at Bologna University in Italy from 2004 through 2013. All patients had either slight inflammation of the small intestinal mucosa, or normal mucosa.

The team assessed clinical, laboratory, and histologic parameters at diagnosis and during a 3-year follow-up period. Forty-six female and 15 male patients, with an average age of 36 years, showed intestinal and extra-intestinal symptoms, whereas the remaining 13 female and 3 male patients, averaging 21 years of age, showed no symptoms at diagnosis.

All subjects tested positive for immunoglobulin A endomysial antibody and tissue transglutaminase antibody, except for 1 patient with immunoglobulin A deficiency; 95% of patients carried the HLA-DQ2 gene. Duodenal biopsies showed that 26% of patients had a Marsh score of 0, while 74% had a Marsh score of 1.

Thirty-six percent of symptomatic patients had autoimmune disorders, and 41% had antinuclear antibodies, compared to just 5% and 12% asymptomatic patients, respectively. Symptomatic patients were generally older at diagnosis (P < .05).

Gluten-free diet led to significant clinical improvement in all 61 symptomatic patients. The 16 asymptomatic patients continued on gluten-containing diets, and only 1 developed mucosal flattening; levels of anti-endomysial and tissue transglutaminase antibodies fluctuated in 5 of these patients or became undetectable.

This 3-year study of adults with potential celiac disease shows that most do have symptoms, which improved on gluten-free diet. However, asymptomatic adults with potential celiac disease do not tend to develop villous atrophy, and so do not require treatment with a gluten-free diet.

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