Early detection of oligosymptomatic gluten-sensitive enteropathy (GSE) may contribute to the prevention of late complications, such as malignancy. Family members of known GSE patients are at higher risk of being affected. To evaluate the frequency and clinical significance of multiple occurrence, we routinely offered an antiendomysium antibody (EmA)-based non-invasive screening to affected families. Among 997 family members of 396 GSE patients, we identified 89 subjects with EmA positivity and/or severe jejunal villous atrophy. In 83 cases GSE has been verified, four patients refused the biopsy and two subjects are under further observation for latent celiac disease. Prevalence of GSE was 8.5% (80/943) among the first-degree relatives, with significantly higher values in the siblings (13.8%) and offsprings (12.0%) than in the parents (4.2%) of the probands (p < 0.001). In 55 families (13.9% of the families studied) two, in ten families (2.5%) three, in one family four and in one other family six members were affected. Combinations of the clinical presentations of index and screening-detected cases were highly variable, with a high percentage of silent and atypical forms in the relatives. GSE cases presenting both with and without dermatitis herpetiformis occurred in 15 families. Six GSE cases with atypical or mild dermatitis herpetiformis were detected in consequence of the screening.
Conclusions: EmA-assisted family screening resulted in the detection of a clinically significant number of additional GSE patients.