Background: The aim of this study was to evaluate the specificity of the immunoglobulin A (IgA) antiendomysial antibody test in the diagnosis of celiac disease in a group of malnourished children with acute diarrhea, chronic diarrhea, or parasitosis, because the reliability of this test has been questioned when applied to this specific group of patients.
Methods: Serum IgA level, IgA antiendomysial antibody (EMA) test, and stool examination were performed in 315 children, ranging in age 6 months to 13 years (range, 41 +/- 2.9 months), affected by malnutrition, isolated or in association with diarrhea or parasitosis. Independent of results, 33 children with a strong suspicion of celiac disease, also underwent IgA antitransglutaminase antibody test and jejunal biopsy.
Results: The EMA test was negative in 313 children, including the 43 with parasitosis, being positive in two patients in whom biopsy disclosed typical celiac mucosal abnormalities (1:157). The 31 children with negative EMA test who underwent biopsy also showed negative antitransglutaminase antibody results. Their biopsies disclosed normal mucosa in 1 patient, variable degree of jejunal atrophy (grade 1 and 2) in 27 patients, and grade 3 abnormalities in 3 patients. One of these three children, showing severe jejunal atrophy, died. The diagnosis of celiac disease was apparently not confirmed by a protracted gluten challenge in the other two children.
Conclusions: The specificity of the EMA test seems to be high also in children with chronic malnutrition and diarrhea. However, the possibility of false-negative tests among immunologically compromised children cannot be excluded. In doubtful cases, the gluten challenge is required in malnourished children with clinical picture, biopsy finding, and evolution suggestive of celiac disease.