Objective: Chronic constipation in children can be linked to cow's milk intolerance (CMI) but the existence of a food intolerance-dependent proctitis is still debated. The aim of this study was to evaluate the histologic data in patients with food intolerance-related constipation.
Material and methods: Fifty-two consecutive patients (22 M, median age 4 years) with chronic constipation unresponsive to common treatment were enrolled. All patients were put on a cow's milk-free diet for 4 weeks and those uncured on this diet underwent a subsequent 4-week period of oligoantigenic diet. In the patients cured on elimination diet, a subsequent double-blind food challenge was performed to confirm the diagnosis of food intolerance. At entry to the study, routine hemato-chemical and immunologic assays, rectoscopy, and histologic study of the rectal mucosa were performed. In the patients cured on elimination diet, rectal histology was repeated when they were cured.
Results: Twenty-four patients were found to be suffering from CMI and 6 from multiple food intolerance. These patients had a normal stool frequency on elimination diet, while constipation reappeared on food challenge. The condition of the remaining 22 patients did not improve on elimination diet. The patients with food intolerance showed a significantly higher frequency of erosions of the mucosa, number of intraepithelial lymphocytes and eosinophils, and number of eosinophils in the lamina propria. Study of the rectal mucus gel layer showed that the food-intolerant patients had a significantly lower thickness than the other subjects studied. In the food intolerant patients, histologic abnormalities disappeared on elimination diet, when the patients were well.
Conclusions: Food intolerance-related constipation is characterized by proctitis with eosinophil infiltrate of the rectal mucosa. A reduced mucus gel layer can be considered a contributory factor in the pathogenesis of the constipation.