Celiac disease: management of persistent symptoms in patients on a gluten-free diet

World J Gastroenterol. 2012 Mar 28;18(12):1348-56. doi: 10.3748/wjg.v18.i12.1348.


Aim: To investigate all patients referred to our center with non-responsive celiac disease (NRCD), to establish a cause for their continued symptoms.

Methods: We assessed all patients referred to our center with non-responsive celiac disease over an 18-mo period. These individuals were investigated to establish the eitiology of their continued symptoms. The patients were first seen in clinic where a thorough history and examination were performed with routine blood work including tissue transglutaminase antibody measurement. They were also referred to a specialist gastroenterology dietician to try to identift any lapses in the diet and sources of hidden gluten ingestion. A repeat small intestinal biopsy was also performed and compared to biopsies from the referring hospital where possible. Colonoscopy, lactulose hydrogen breath testing, pancreolauryl testing and computed tomography scan of the abdomen were undertaken if the symptoms persisted. Their clinical progress was followed over a minimum of 2 years.

Results: One hundred and twelve consecutive patients were referred with NRCD. Twelve were found not to have celiac disease (CD). Of the remaining 100 patients, 45% were not adequately adhering to a strict gluten-free diet, with 24 (53%) found to be inadvertently ingesting gluten, and 21 (47%) admitting non-compliance. Microscopic colitis was diagnosed in 12% and small bowel bacterial overgrowth in 9%. Refractory CD was diagnosed in 9%. Three of these were diagnosed with intestinal lymphoma. After 2 years, 78 patients remained well, eight had continuing symptoms, and four had died.

Conclusion: In individuals with NRCD, a remediable cause can be found in 90%: with continued gluten ingestion as the leading cause. We propose an algorithm for investigation.

Keywords: Celiac disease; Gluten; Gluten-free diet; Non-responsive celiac disease; Refractory celiac disease.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Algorithms
  • Celiac Disease / diet therapy*
  • Celiac Disease / etiology
  • Celiac Disease / pathology*
  • Celiac Disease / physiopathology*
  • Colitis, Microscopic / pathology
  • Colitis, Microscopic / physiopathology
  • Diet, Gluten-Free*
  • Disease Management
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Patient Compliance
  • Young Adult