Background: Anemia due to hematinic deficiencies is common in patients with untreated celiac disease. Although celiac disease is a chronic condition characterized by an intense inflammatory response of the intestinal mucosa, scant data are available about the prevalence of anemia of chronic disease in celiac disease.
Design and methods: One hundred and fifty-two patients with celiac disease at presentation were studied. Anemia was investigated by determining complete blood counts, body iron status, serum levels of the soluble transferrin receptor, erythropoietin, prohepcidin and interferon-gamma. Genotyping for HFE mutations associated with hereditary hemochromatosis was performed. Fifty-three anemic patients were re-evaluated for hematologic response after 1 year on a gluten-free diet.
Results: At the time of diagnosis of celiac disease the prevalence of anemia was 34%. Fifty-three out of 65 anemic patients had either iron and/or vitamin deficiency (folate, vitamin B(12)). Hereditary hemochromatosis mutations did not affect the prevalence of anemia. In 11 cases iron status parameters were indicative of anemia of chronic disease, sometimes in association with iron deficiency (6 patients). Patients with anemia of chronic disease had low levels of erythropoietin for the degree of anemia and increased serum interferon-gamma. In most cases anemia improved following a gluten-free diet, response rates being similar in anemia of chronic disease and in anemia due to hematinic deficiencies.
Conclusions: Our study shows that, in addition to iron and vitamin deficiencies, anemia of chronic disease has a significant role in some patients with celiac disease. Suppression of intestinal inflammatory changes as a result of a gluten-free diet improves anemia by correcting iron and vitamin malabsorption as well as mechanisms contributing to anemia of chronic disease.