Celiac.com 08/17/2008 - One of the important ways doctors distinguish between the two types of refractory celiac disease is by looking at differences in intra-epithelial T lymphocytes (IELs) in intestinal biopsies. People with refractory celiac disease who show normal IELs are said to have refractory celiac disease I, while those with abnormal IELs are said to have refractory celiac disease II.
A team of doctors based in the Netherlands recently set out to assess the effectiveness of computed tomography (CT) in diagnosing refractory celiac disease, and enteropathy-associated T-cell lymphoma (EATL). EATL is a generally rare, but particularly aggressive form of bowel cancer that is the leading cause of death in adults with celiac disease.
The team looked at 46 patients with clinically proven celiac disease, refractory celiac disease I, refractory celiac disease II, or EATL including 18 males and twenty-eight females. The first group contained 14 patients with uncomplicated celiac disease and 10 with type I refractory celiac disease. The second group contained 15 patients with type II refractory celiac disease and 7 patients with EATL. 5 patients from group II showed lymphandenopathy, compared to none in the first group. 20 patients from group I showed a higher number of small mesenteric vessels compared to just 11 from group II.
This is significant because increased numbers of small mesenteric vessels are associated with an absence of refractory celiac disease II and EATL, while reduced numbers of small mesenteric vessels are associated with a higher rate of refractory celiac disease II and EATL.
The team evaluated the two groups within eleven categories: abnormal intestinal fold patterns; bowel wall thickness, excess fluid; intestinal insussuction; ascites; lymphadenopathy; increases in lymph node numbers; mesenteric vascular changes; and spleen size. One other area the doctors found important was in differences in the average thickness of the bowel wall. Group I showed thinner bowel walls compared to group II. In group I, average bowel thickness ranged from 4mm to 11mm, with an average thickness of 7.0mm. In group II, average bowel thickness ranged from 5mm to 15mm, with an average thickness of 10.0mm. So, group II showed about 30% thicker bowel walls than group I.
The doctors’ conclusions reaffirmed the need for a biopsy before confirming a diagnosis of celiac disease. Regarding the use of CT, the team found CT unnecessary for cases of uncomplicated celiac disease, but found CT very useful in cases of complicated and pre-cancerous celiac disease.
The study team also found that pattern reversal and/or loss of jejunal folds is specific to celiac disease, though they had an admittedly small sample of just 24 of their 46 patients, so their measures are far from definitive.
All of this drives home the importance of encouraging early and accurate screening for celiac disease. Ideally, we will get to the point where, like many European countries, we will begin to catch celiac disease before it ever becomes refractory, and before it ever develops into EATL.
Until then, stay informed and take an active role in maintaining your own health.
World J Gastroenterol 2007; 13(11): 1696-1700