Objective: Gluten intolerance is a common, immunologically mediated disorder with a widely variable clinical presentation that affects genetically predisposed subjects. Women seem to be more frequently affected although data on sex differences are poor. In this study the prevalence of different clinical pictures according to sex and age is analysed in a large series of patients.
Material and methods: A total of 1436 patients with gluten intolerance were retrospectively considered, diagnosed from January 1975 to August 2001 based on compatible small-bowel biopsy and response to a gluten-free diet, plus immunofluorescent detection of granular IgA in papillary derma for dermatitis herpetiformis. The clinical picture at onset (classic, non-classic, silent) and age at diagnosis (< or = 2 years, > 2 and < or = 14 years, > 14 years) was recorded; 362 parents of coeliac probands undergoing a familial screening were also studied. The relations among sex, age class and symptoms were analysed using the chi2 test with Yates's correction.
Results: The overall female/male ratio was 2.3:1 but the inter-sex difference was significant only when the diagnosis was made in adulthood where a significant association between iron-deficiency anaemia as manifestation at onset in adult women (34% versus 7%) was found. Low weight, dyspepsia and hypertransaminasaemia were more common in adult men than women (20%, 14% and 7% versus 13%, 3% and 2%, respectively). Dermatitis herpetiformis was present more frequently in men (16% versus 9%). The prevalence of silent cases was 6% in men and 3% in women. Familial screening showed the same prevalence (9.3%) of current coeliac disease in fathers and mothers.
Conclusions: Diagnosis of coeliac disease is more frequent in women but physicians' awareness of sex- and age-related differences in clinical presentation could improve diagnostic performances in men.