Background: Abdominal complaints after ingestion of cereals are not uncommon. We assessed how reliable such a history is as a marker for the presence of overt coeliac disease, and whether we should also take into account latent coeliac disease and cereal allergy.
Methods: The study group comprised 93 consecutive adults from health centres spontaneously reporting abdominal symptoms after consumption of cereals. Small bowel mucosal morphology, CD3+, alphabeta+ and gammadelta+ intraepithelial lymphocytes (IELs), HLA DQ alleles and serum IgA-class endomysial (EmA), tissue transglutaminase (tTg) and gliadin (AGA) antibodies were determined. Skin prick and patch tests and serum radioallergosorbent tests for cereals were carried out. Thirty non-coeliac adults served as biopsy controls.
Results: Eight (9%) patients had coeliac disease and one mild partial villous atrophy. Altogether 17 had an increased density of gamma delta+ IELs without atrophy. However, only seven (8%) showed evidence of latent coeliac disease, i.e. both an increase in gammadelta+ IELs and the presence of coeliac disease-type HLA. One or more of the allergy tests for cereals was positive in 19; 9 adopted a gluten-free diet and abdominal symptoms were alleviated in all. In non-coeliac patients, serum EmA and tTg tests were negative in all, whereas AGA was seen in 40%.
Conclusions: Intolerance to cereals is not a specific sign of overt or latent coeliac disease. All experimental dietary interventions before proper diagnosis of coeliac disease are therefore to be discouraged. Allergy to cereals, on the other hand, should be considered even in adults.