Background: The diagnosis of celiac disease requires characteristic histopathologic changes in an intestinal biopsy with clinical improvement in response to a gluten-free diet. Endoscopy with procurement of biopsy specimens is often performed to document response to the diet, but there are little data on the appearance of treated celiac disease. This study examined the endoscopic and histopathologic appearance of the duodenum of patients with celiac disease whose diet was gluten-free.
Methods: A cohort of 39 adult patients (mean age 52 years, range 20-74 years) with biopsy-proven celiac disease was retrospectively reviewed. All had responded clinically to a gluten-free diet that they had maintained for a mean of 8.5 years (range 1-45 years). The endoscopic and histopathologic appearances of the duodenal mucosa were reviewed. Blinded review of the diagnostic (initial) and post-treatment biopsy specimens was also performed to assess response of individual patients to the diet.
Results: The endoscopic appearance was normal in 23%, reduced duodenal folds were present in 46%, scalloping of folds in 33%, mucosal fissures in 44%, and nodularity in 33%. There was more than 1 abnormality present in 46%. Histology was normal in only 21%. The remainder had villous atrophy (69% partial, 10% total). Paired (diagnostic and follow-up) biopsy specimens were reviewed blindly for 12 patients. The mean (SD) intraepithelial lymphocyte count fell from 61 (22) to 38 (17) (normal <30 per 100 epithelial cells) and the crypt-to-villous ratio improved although it did not normalize.
Conclusions: Despite a good clinical response, abnormal endoscopic and histopathologic appearances persist in the majority of patients with celiac disease treated with a gluten-free diet.