Background and aims: Persistent intestinal damage is associated with higher complication rates in celiac disease. We aimed to assess the potential modifiers of mucosal recovery.
Materials and methods: We screened databases (PubMed, Embase, Cochrane Trials, and Web of Science) for papers on celiac disease. Papers discussing (1) celiac patients (2) follow-up biopsy and (3) mucosal recovery after commencement of a gluten-free diet were included. The primary outcome was to produce a comprehensive analysis of complete mucosal recovery (i.e., Marsh 0 on follow-up). We compared children's recovery ratios to those of adults. Patients following a strict gluten-free dietary regimen were included in a subgroup. Summary point estimates, 95% confidence intervals (CIs), and 95% predictive intervals (PIs) were calculated. Heterogeneity was tested with I2-statistic. The PROSPERO registration number is CRD42016053482.
Results: The overall complete mucosal recovery ratio, calculated from 37 observational studies, was 0.36 (CI: 0.28-0.44, PI: -0.12-0.84; I2: 98.4%, p<0.01). Children showed higher complete mucosal recovery ratio than adults (p<0.01): 0.65 (CI: 0.44-0.85, PI: -0.10-1.39; I2: 96.5%, p<0.01) as opposed to 0.24 (CI: 0.15-0.33, PI: -0.19-1.08; I2: 96.3%, p<0.01). In the strict dietary adherence subgroup, complete mucosal recovery ratio was 0.47 (CI: 0.24-0.70, PI: -0.47-1.41; I2: 98.8%, p<0.001). On meta-regression, diagnostic villous atrophy (Marsh 3) ratio (-8.97, p<0.01) and male ratio (+6.04, p<0.01) proved to be a significant determinant of complete mucosal recovery, unlike duration of gluten-free diet (+0.01, p = 0.62). The correlation between complete mucosal recovery ratio and age on diagnosis is of borderline significance (-0.03, p = 0.05).
Conclusions: There is considerable heterogeneity across studies concerning complete mucosal recovery ratios achieved by a gluten-free diet in celiac disease. Several celiac patients fail to achieve complete mucosal recovery even if a strict dietary regimen is followed. Younger age on diagnosis, less severe initial histologic damage and male gender predispose for achieving mucosal recovery.