Changing clinical features of coeliac disease

Authors


JK Visakorpi, University of Tampere, PO Box 607, SF-33103 Tampere, Finland

Abstract

The classical clinical picture of coeliac disease includes prolonged diarrhoea with failure to thrive. During the past two decades this type of active presentation of coeliac disease has decreased in many European countries, giving the impression that coeliac disease is a disappearing disease. However, this is not true. The disease can be found in older children with a more or less silent presentation. Silent coeliac disease can be detected by active screening with serological tests. Coeliac disease can be suspected in children suffering from mild gastrointestinal symptoms, such as abdominal pain, and in those with signs of nutritional deficiencies, as well as in children of first-degree relatives of already diagnosed coeliacs, patients with IgA-deficiency, patients suffering from dental enamel hypoplasia or dermatitis herpetiformis, and patients with some other disease known to be associated with coeliac disease, such as diabetes mellitus. According to the fundamental criteria of coeliac disease, the intestinal mucosa is flat when the individual is eating gluten-containing foods. However, this is not strictly true. Intolerance to gluten is obviously variable and the intestinal mucosa may be normal. This type of latent coeliac disease can be detected by analysing genetic markers, measuring antibodies in intestinal fluid or counting the density of intra-epithelial gamma/delta T cells which are increased greatly even in the latent phase of coeliac disease. Thus the general concept of the natural history of coeliac disease is changing.

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