The changing clinical profile of celiac disease: a 15-year experience (1998-2012) in an Italian referral center

BMC Gastroenterol. 2014 Nov 18;14:194. doi: 10.1186/s12876-014-0194-x.


Background: Celiac disease is a multiform, challenging condition characterized by extremely variable features. Our goal was to define clinical, serological and histopathological findings in a large cohort of celiacs diagnosed in a single referral center.

Methods: From January 1998 to December 2012, 770 patients (599 females, median age 36 years, range 18-78 years) were diagnosed as celiacs at St. Orsola-Malpighi Hospital (Bologna, Italy). The clinical phenotypes were classified as: 1) classical (malabsorption syndrome); 2) non-classical (extraintestinal and/or gastrointestinal symptoms other than diarrhea); 3) subclinical. Serology, duodenal histology, comorbidities, response to gluten-free diet and complications were evaluated.

Results: Disease onset was symptomatic in 610 patients (79%), while 160 celiacs showed a subclinical phenotype. In the symptomatic group the non-classical prevailed over the classical phenotype (66% vs 34%). Diarrhea was found in 27%, while other gastrointestinal manifestations were bloating (20%), aphthous stomatitis (18%), alternating bowel habit (15%), constipation (13%) and gastroesophageal reflux disease (12%). Extraintestinal manifestations included osteopenia/osteoporosis (52%), anemia (34%), cryptogenic hypertransaminasemia (29%) and recurrent miscarriages (12%). Positivity for IgA tissue transglutaminase antibodies was detected in 97%. Villous atrophy was found in 87%, while 13% had minor lesions consistent with potential celiac disease. A large proportion of patients showed autoimmune disorders, i.e. autoimmune thyroiditis (26.3%), dermatitis herpetiformis (4%) and diabetes mellitus type 1 (3%). Complicated celiac disease was very rare.

Conclusions: Our study demonstrates that the clinical profile of celiac disease changed over time with an increasing rate of non-classical and subclinical phenotypes.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Celiac Disease / complications
  • Celiac Disease / diagnosis*
  • Celiac Disease / diet therapy
  • Diet, Gluten-Free
  • Duodenum / pathology
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Italy
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Serologic Tests
  • Young Adult