Objectives: Although osteopenia and osteoporosis are well-recognized complications of celiac disease, no controlled studies have been done to assess the prevalence of fractures in a large cohort of patients. The objectives of this study were to determine the prevalence of bone fractures and vertebral deformities in celiacs and to analyze the relationship between fractures and clinical data of patients.
Methods: We studied 165 patients with a well-established diagnosis of celiac disease. A similar number of age- and gender-matched control subjects with functional GI disorders were evaluated. The design of the study was cross-sectional, with a retrospective historical review through a personal interview of all subjects. All patients underwent bone mineral density measurement by dual-energy, x-ray absorptiometry and spinal x-ray. Vertebral deformities were determined by visual inspection of spinal x-rays and by morphometric analysis.
Results: Among celiacs, 41 patients (25%) referred have had from one to five fractures in the peripheral skeleton. On the contrary, only 14 (8%) control subjects experienced fractures. This difference was highly significant (odds ratio, 3.5; 95% confidence interval [CI], 1.8-7.2; p<0.0001). Although inspection of spinal x-rays showed evidence of vertebral deformities in the lumbar spine in only two patients, a more detailed examination of lateral x-rays using morphometric criteria detected lumbar spine vertebral deformities in nine (five also had fractures in the peripheral skeleton) and in four controls (odds ratio, 2.8; 95% CI, 0.7-11.5; p = NS). Eighty percent of fractures were detected before the diagnosis of celiac disease or in patients who were noncompliant with the gluten-free diet; only 7% of patients experienced fractures after starting treatment. Regression analysis adjusted for multiple comparisons showed that patients with fractures were diagnosed with celiac disease later (p<0.06) and remained undiagnosed for more prolonged periods (p<0.05). There was a trend, which did not reach statistical significance, for a lower bone mineral density in the lumbar spine and total skeleton among patients with fractures.
Conclusions: This study has demonstrated that patients with celiac disease had a high prevalence of bone fractures in the peripheral skeleton. Most of these events occurred before diagnosis or while patients were noncompliant with gluten-containing diet. Our results suggest that early diagnosis and effective treatment of celiac disease were the most relevant measures to protect patients from the risk of fractures.