Intestinal disaccharidase deficiency without villous atrophy may represent early celiac disease

Scand J Gastroenterol. 2001 Feb;36(2):163-8. doi: 10.1080/003655201750065915.


Background: Intestinal disaccharidase activities are decreased in untreated celiac disease and also in other conditions without villous atrophy. Of 908 patients examined for suspected malabsorption, 37 (4.1%) had generalized disaccharidase deficiency without villous atrophy. The aim was to determine if generalized disaccharidase deficiency without villous atrophy represented latent celiac disease.

Methods: Case notes and histology of the 37 patients were reviewed. History and blood investigations including antigliadin and endomysial antibodies were checked. Where celiac disease was suspected, endoscopic duodenal biopsies for histology and disaccharidase estimation were repeated.

Results: Of the initial 37 patients, 6 patients had had repeat endoscopic biopsies; one having celiac disease. A further 18 patients were reviewed. The remainder declined further investigation. Eight had repeat endoscopic duodenal biopsies; one had celiac disease. Two with positive celiac serology also had enteroscopy with jejunal biopsies; both had celiac disease.

Conclusions: At least 11% of patients with generalized disaccharidase deficiency without villous atrophy develop celiac disease. Enteroscopic biopsies from distal duodenum and proximal jejunum should be considered as the next investigation if endomysial or antigliadin antibodies are positive.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Atrophy
  • Biopsy
  • Celiac Disease / enzymology*
  • Celiac Disease / pathology
  • Disaccharidases / deficiency*
  • Duodenum / pathology
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Intestinal Mucosa
  • Male
  • Middle Aged


  • Disaccharidases