Diagnosis of gluten-sensitive enteropathy: is exclusive reliance on histology appropriate?

Eur J Gastroenterol Hepatol. 1998 Nov;10(11):919-25.


Objective: Coeliac disease is a prevalent disorder but frequently remains undiagnosed because of varied modes of clinical presentation. In this study, methods for the detection of coeliac disease were evaluated in a clinical practice setting.

Methods: Small intestinal histology, IgA anti-endomysial and IgG anti-gliadin antibody tests were performed on 441 unselected, consecutive patients under investigation for small intestinal disease. Response to treatment and other clinical events were monitored over the ensuing years.

Results: Untreated coeliac disease was diagnosed in 97 patients and was excluded in 344. At clinical presentation, the endomysial antibody test was positive in 84 of the 97 untreated coeliac patients (sensitivity 87%) and negative in 340 of the 344 non-coeliac patients (specificity 99%). A typical histological lesion was found in 83 of the 97 coeliac patients (sensitivity 86%) but was absent in all 344 non-coeliacs (specificity 100%). The sensitivity of the gliadin antibody test was 69% and the specificity was 71%.

Conclusions: In unselected patients attending a gastroenterology clinic, small bowel histology and endomysial antibody serology show similar predictive value in the diagnosis of coeliac disease. These results emphasize that a combination of clinical, histological and serological criteria are required for effective diagnosis of this disorder. Exclusive reliance on histology or serology will result in failure to make a diagnosis in a significant proportion of patients.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Antibodies
  • Biopsy
  • Celiac Disease / pathology*
  • Female
  • Gliadin / immunology
  • Humans
  • Intestine, Small / pathology*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Sensitivity and Specificity


  • Antibodies
  • Gliadin