Should relatives of coeliacs with mild clinical complaints undergo a small-bowel biopsy despite negative serology?

Eur J Gastroenterol Hepatol. 2000 Jan;12(1):51-5. doi: 10.1097/00042737-200012010-00010.


Background and objectives: Small intestinal lesions in coeliac disease (CD) have a variable severity. Early diagnosis of CD is important because treatment allows a normal psycho-physical development, especially in children, and can avoid associated disorders. The aim of this study was to evaluate the predictive value of screening parameters for the detection and estimation of CD prevalence in first-degree relatives.

Methods: The screening was performed in 338 first-degree relatives of 134 coeliac families. Questionnaires and a physical examination followed by haematological analyses and serologyfor IgA anti-endomysium (EMA)/IgA antigliadin (AGA) antibodies were used in orderto selectthe candidates for small-bowel biopsy. The small-bowel biopsy was indicated on the basis of clinical complaints, laboratory tests and serology performed in 96 (28%) of the study group.

Results: CD was diagnosed in 17/96 cases. Six of the 17 showed total villous atrophy (VA) (Marsh IIIc), five subtotal VA (Marsh IIIb) and six partial VA (Marsh IIIa). EMA and AGA were strongly positive in the six patients whose intestinal biopsy showed total VA. However, only one coeliac out of the six patients with partial VA had positive EMA and AGA.

Conclusion: A significant proportion of coeliacs may be missed if cases are screened by serology only. Although endomysial antibody assay has been reported as a highly sensitive and specific test for detection of CD, we argue that using only EMA and AGA in screening is not enough for investigation of the true prevalence of CD. A combination of clinical parameters as described in this study and laboratory/serological tests is an important and practical contribution to improving the detection rate of CD.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Antibodies, Anti-Idiotypic / blood
  • Biopsy / standards
  • Celiac Disease / blood*
  • Celiac Disease / epidemiology
  • Celiac Disease / immunology
  • Celiac Disease / pathology*
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Duodenoscopy
  • Duodenum / pathology*
  • Family
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Immunoglobulin A / blood
  • Infant
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Netherlands / epidemiology
  • Physical Examination / standards
  • Predictive Value of Tests
  • Prevalence
  • Serologic Tests / standards
  • Surveys and Questionnaires


  • Antibodies, Anti-Idiotypic
  • Immunoglobulin A