Background: It has recently been shown that mass screening for coeliac disease, using either the serum antigliadin (AGA) or antiendomysium antibodies (EMA) as screening test, can detect large numbers of cases that had escaped clinical diagnosis. The influence of the diagnostic algorithm on the results of the coeliac screening has not yet been evaluated. Our aim was to compare the validity of the AGA and the EMA protocols in 2096 students living in northwest Sardinia, who took part in a serologic screening for coeliac disease.
Methods: The sample included 2096 of 2345 eligible students (89%) aged 11-15 years who underwent serum IgG AGA, IgA AGA, and IgA EMA determinations. Total serum IgA level was measured in sera showing isolated IgG AGA positivity. Subjects showing at least one of the following: a) EMA positivity, b) IgA AGA positivity, or c) IgG AGA positivity and IgA deficiency (<5 mg/dl) were asked to submit to a small-intestinal biopsy.
Results: The prevalence of coeliac disease was 19 (16 showing typical enteropathy, 1 potential case, and 2 known cases) of 2096 (0.91%; 95% confidence interval = 0.50-1.31). Seventeen small-intestinal biopsy specimens were needed to confirm 16 cases of manifest coeliac disease (positive predictive value (PPV) = 94%) by the EMA protocol, whereas the AGA protocol required 21 biopsy specimens for 12 cases of coeliac disease (PPV = 57%). None of six IgA-deficient, IgG AGA-positive cases detected by the AGA protocol also had coeliac disease.
Conclusions: The EMA protocol is superior to the AGA protocol for mass screening of coeliac disease because of higher sensitivity, decreased need for intestinal biopsy, and possibility to detect potential cases of coeliac disease.