Objective: The diagnosis of coeliac disease requires small-bowel mucosal villous atrophy with crypt hyperplasia. However, patients with endomysial antibodies but structurally normal villi may suffer from a disorder similar to those with villous atrophy. The aim of this study was to evaluate gastrointestinal symptoms, quality of life and bone mineral density in patients with mild enteropathy, and the effect of a gluten-free diet.
Material and methods: A prospective trial was carried out in 73 adults having endomysial antibodies with normal villous morphology (Marsh I-II; mild enteropathy) or villous atrophy (Marsh III). Gastrointestinal symptoms and quality of life were surveyed by means of structured questionnaires and bone mineral density by means of X-ray absorptiometry. Altogether, 110 subjects served as non-coeliac controls.
Results: At baseline, patients with mild enteropathy evinced more gastrointestinal symptoms than non-coeliac controls, but there were no significant differences in quality of life between the groups. After 1 year on a gluten-free diet, indigestion and depression were significantly alleviated in the mild enteropathy group. Osteoporosis or osteopenia was detected in 58% of subjects in the mild enteropathy group and there was a trend towards improved bone mineral density after the treatment.
Conclusions: Endomysial antibody-positive patients with normal villous structure may suffer from gastrointestinal symptoms and have poor bone health. Furthermore, they benefit from a gluten-free diet similar to those with overt villous atrophy.