Objectives: Osteopenia is a well-known complication of overt celiac disease, but whether such defective bone mineralization is present among asymptomatic or silent patients is not known. Our objectives were: 1) to examine bone mineralization of a group of asymptomatic celiac patients; 2) to compare these results with those of symptomatic patients.
Methods: Bone mineral density of the spine and total skeleton by dual energy x-ray absorptiometry and serum parameters of mineral metabolism of eight recently diagnosed asymptomatic patients with celiac disease were studied. Results were compared with those obtained in 20 untreated symptomatic celiacs, 14 patients treated with gluten-free diet for a mean time of 15 yr, and 153 healthy adult subjects, matched by sex and age.
Results: Four and five out of eight asymptomatic patients presented with reduced mineralization of the spine and the total skeleton, respectively (> 1 SD below normal values for sex and age). Two patients presented with severe osteopenia of the spine, and the other three presented with severe osteopenia of the whole skeleton (> 2 SD below mean normal values). Osteopenia at plane bone level (total skeleton) was significantly lower when compared to healthy controls (p < 0.02). Symptomatic untreated patients had significantly more severe deterioration of bone mineralization than did asymptomatics (p < 0.05) and treated patients (p < 0.05). No difference in bone mineral density was observed between treated patients and asymptomatic celiacs. Serum levels of calcium, alkaline phosphatase, 25-OH vitamin D, and parathormone did not show conclusive abnormalities.
Conclusions: Our findings provide direct evidence that reduced bone mineralization occurs in asymptomatic celiac patients before any other symptom becomes evident. Only early diagnosis and treatment of celiac disease can avoid the deterioration of the bone structure observed in all clinical status of celiac disease.