Objectives: Refractory celiac disease (RCD) is one of the most serious causes of persistent symptoms in patients with celiac disease (CD). Published reports suggest that approximately half of patients in Europe are RCD type II, which carries a poor prognosis with a 5-year survival rate of ~50% compared with ~90% for RCD type I. However, disease patterns may be different in North America. The aim of this study was to explore the clinical spectrum of RCD in a North American population.
Methods: Medical records of patients with biopsy-proven CD presenting to our institution were reviewed for a diagnosis of RCD. Demographic data, clinical characteristics, and mortality were evaluated and compared with our general CD population.
Results: In all, 34 out of 844 (4.0%) CD patients had RCD. The cumulative incidence of RCD for patients diagnosed with CD at our center was 1.5%. Unintentional weight loss at diagnosis of RCD was found in 76.5% (n=26) compared with 16.7% (n=141) at diagnosis of CD (P<0.0001) and diarrhea at diagnosis of RCD was found in 79.4% (n=27) compared with 40.5% (342) at diagnosis of CD (P<0.0001). Five patients (14.7%) were diagnosed with RCD type II and of these, two died of enteropathy-associated lymphoma within 24 months of diagnosis of CD (observed mortality rate 5.9%).
Conclusions: Although RCD is a serious condition with significant morbidity; the observed mortality rates are low in our population. This study suggests that RCD may be less severe in North American vs. European populations.