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Guts of Patients with Refractory Dermetitis Herpetiformis Respond to Gluten-free Diet

New research shows that guts of patients with refractory dermetitis herpetiformis respond to a gluten-free diet.


Refractory dermatitis herpetiformis different than refractory celiac disease. Photo: CC--ProVillage9991

Celiac.com 02/09/2017 - Dermatitis herpetiformis is a skin disease that causes blistering, and is understood to be an external symptom of celiac disease. Refractory celiac disease, which does not respond to a gluten-free diet and which carries an increased risk of lymphoma, is well-known to clinicians and researchers.

A team of researchers recently set out to determine if there were any cases of refractory dermatitis herpetiformis with active rash and persistent small bowel atrophy that do not respond to a gluten-free diet. The research team included K Hervonen, TT Salmi, T Ilus, K Paasikivi, M Vornanen, K Laurila, K Lindfors, K Viiri, P Saavalainen, P Collin, K Kaukinen, and T Reunala. They are affiliated with the Department of Dermatology, Tampere University Hospital and University of Tampere, in Tampere, Finland.

For their study, the team analyzed their series of 403 patients with dermatitis herpetiformis. They found seven patients (1.7%), who had been on a gluten-free diet for a mean of 16 years, but who still required dapsone to treat the symptoms of dermatitis herpetiformis. Of these, one patient died from mucinous adenocarcinoma before re-examination. At re-examination, the team found skin immunoglobulin A (IgA) deposits in 5 of 6 refractory and 3 of 16 control dermatitis herpetiformis patients with good dietary response.

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At reexamination, they studied small bowel mucosa from 5 refractory and 8 control dermatitis herpetiformis patients; results were normal in all 5 refractory and 7 of 8 control dermatitis herpetiformis patients. One refractory dermatitis herpetiformis patient died from adenocarcinoma, but none of the patients developed lymphoma.

This study marks the first time doctors have seen small bowel mucosa healing in patients with refractory dermatitis herpetiformis, where the rash is non-responsive to a gluten-free diet. This means that even though dermatitis herpetiformis sufferers may still have a rash, they can also have a healthy gut.

This is sharply different from refractory celiac disease, where small bowel mucosa do not heal on a gluten-free diet.

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