Purpose: Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is common but therapies are unsatisfactory. Food is often suspected as cause by patients, but diagnostic procedures, apart from allergy testing, are limited. Based on the hypothesis of non-celiac wheat sensitivity (WS) in a subgroup of IBS patients, we tested the long-term response to a gluten-free diet (GFD) and investigated HLA-DQ2 or -DQ8 expression as a diagnostic marker for WS in diarrhea-dominant (IBS-D) and mixed-type IBS (IBS-M).
Methods: The response to a GFD served as reference test for WS and HLA-DQ2/8 expression was determined as index test. Patients were classified as responders if they reported complete or considerable relief of IBS symptoms on at least 75 % of weeks over a 4-month period of gluten-free diet. Established questionnaires (IBS-Quality of Life (IBS-QoL), IBS Symptom Severity Scale (IBS-SSS), European Quality of Life-5 Dimensions (EQ-5D)) were used for secondary outcome measures.
Results: Thirty-five patients finished the study. Of these, 12 (34 %) were responders and classified as having WS (95 % CI 21-51 %). HLA-DQ2/8 expression had a specificity of 52 % (95 % CI 33-71 %) and sensitivity of 25 % (95 % CI 8-54 %) for WS. Responders showed improvement in quality of life and symptom scores. At 1-year follow-up, all responders and 55 % of non-responders were still on GFD and reported symptom relief.
Conclusion: Using strict criteria as recommended for IBS studies, about one third of patients with IBS-D or IBS-M are wheat sensitive, with a similar proportion in both IBS types. Expression of HLA-DQ2/8 is not useful as diagnostic marker for WS. Long-term adherence to a GFD is high and can sustain symptomatic improvement.
Keywords: Gluten-free diet; HLA-DQ2; HLA-DQ8; Irritable bowel syndrome; Wheat-sensitivity.