Background: Occult celiac disease has been reported in 0 to 6% of adults presenting with iron-deficiency anemia. Most prior studies have been retrospective or screened only a selected population of patients with small bowel biopsies. To more accurately define the true prevalence of this disorder in patients presenting with iron-deficiency anemia (with or without stool hemoccult positivity), we initiated this prospective study.
Methods: Esophagogastroduodenoscopy with small bowel biopsies and colonoscopy were performed in all iron-deficiency anemia patients (including those with hemoccult-positive stools) referred to the gastroenterology service during a 2-year period (1998-2000). Inclusion criteria included iron-deficiency anemia as defined by a serum ferritin < 25 ng/ml and anemia with hemoglobin < 12 g/dl. Patients were excluded for documented prior erosive, ulcerative, or malignant disease of the gastrointestinal tract, previous gastrointestinal surgery, overt gastrointestinal bleeding within the past 3 months, or inability to access the duodenum for biopsy. All patients underwent upper endoscopy with more than two biopsies of the distal duodenum and colonoscopy. A serum immunoglobulin A antiendomysial antibody test was to be performed in those patients with a positive small bowel biopsy to confirm the diagnosis of celiac disease.
Results: One hundred five of 139 consecutive patients with iron-deficiency anemia met the inclusion criteria and were enrolled in the study. Fifty-seven men (mean age, 51.6 yr) and 48 women (mean age, 54.1 yr) constituted the study population. The demographics of this study population included 36 blacks, 38 Hispanics, and 22 whites. Nine patients were of mixed or unknown ethnic background. Forty-three and eight-tenths percent of the men and 37.5% of women had hemoccult-positive stools, accounting for a total of 40.9% of the study patients. Upper endoscopic findings included gastritis in 22.8%, gastric ulcers in 9.5%, duodenitis in 8.5%, esophagitis in 7.6%, Barrett's ulcer in 2.8%, duodenal ulcer in 2.8%, gastric polyp in 2.8%, and celiac disease in 2.8%. Colonoscopic findings included colon polyps in 21.9%, diverticula in 10.4%, and hemorrhoids in 16.1%. Multiple findings were found in 32.3% of patients, and there were no findings in 28.5% of patients.
Conclusion: The prevalence of occult celiac disease in this prospective study of patients presenting with iron-deficiency anemia was 2.8%. A significant number of other gastrointestinal lesions amenable to therapy were also found on upper and lower endoscopy in these patients. Given the treatable nature of celiac disease, it should be screened for in patients with unexplained iron-deficiency anemia with or without hemoccult-positive stools.