Tag Archives: gluten intolerance

A Case of Temporary Gluten Intolerance Following an Infection

I never in a million years would ever have guessed that I’d be writing about gastroenteritis (known to many as the “stomach flu”) for fun back when I was a medical student. But, I never would have guessed that I would eventually be diagnosed with celiac disease back when I was student either. Needless to say, I came across a really interesting case report on pubmed.gov called “Post gastroenteritis gluten intolerance” that was published last month.

Celiac researchers have hypothesized that viral infections may trigger celiac disease in some cases. This case report details a 32 year old, previously healthy woman who developed chronic diarrhea after an episode of gastroenteritis. Her tests for celiac disease (TTG antibodies and endoscopy with small bowel biopsies) were negative. After other causes of chronic diarrhea were ruled out, she was given a working diagnosis of post infectious irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).  She was treated with a gluten free diet and her IBS symptoms markedly improved. She was able to reintroduce gluten a few months later, without a return of diarrhea, leading her to be ultimately diagnosed with post infectious gluten intolerance.

Although it is well documented that many patients develop a temporary lactose intolerance after episodes of gastroenteritis, this is the first case report I have come across of a patient developing a transient gluten intolerance after having a gastrointestinal infection. The authors do an excellent job of explaining why gluten intolerance may develop after gut infections. Gut inflammation following an infection may lead to reduced activity of the enzymes (peptidases) that break down gluten. These partially intact gluten proteins may then damage the intestinal walls, leading to gluten intolerance. The authors speculate that in some cases this gluten intolerance is temporary, while in other cases it is permanent. According to the authors’ conclusion, “Transient or permanent post gastroenteritis gluten intolerance might be a common unrecognized clinical condition. Like secondary lactose intolerance, post gastroenteritis gluten intolerance could explain the prolonged symptoms that develop in a group of patients who have suffered from infectious gastroenteritis.” It is possible that many patients with post-infectious “IBS” may actually be suffering from an undiagnosed gluten intolerance.

I hope that the authors will continue to study post gastroenteritis gluten intolerance in more detail. I am interested in learn more about this condition, including how common it actually is, the average length of time that the gluten intolerance lasts, the percentage of patients with this problem who eventually develop celiac disease, etc. I also suspect that this entity may have played a role in my youngest daughter’s transient gluten sensitivity/intolerance last year–she tested negative for celiac disease on a properly obtained duodenal biopsy at age 2 and is now able to eat gluten without any problems.

Reference:

Rostami, K., Rostami-Nejad, M., Al Dulaimi, D. Post gastroenteritis gluten intolerance. Gastroenterol Hepatol Bed Bench 2015; 8(1): 66-70.

gluten challenge

Hope for a Less Challenging “Gluten Challenge”

The current “gold standard” tests for celiac disease include testing for celiac antibodies in patients’ blood and performing an endoscopy to obtain small bowel biopsies. In order for these tests to be accurate, one has to be eating gluten up until the time of testing.  If a patient is already on the gluten-free diet when these tests are done, the diagnosis of celiac disease can easily be missed.

Since starting this page I’ve encountered many people who have decided that they’d like to be tested for celiac disease after starting on the gluten-free diet.  Per the celiac disease experts, a “gluten challenge” must be performed in these cases to assist in the diagnosis of celiac disease. A gluten challenge requires eating foods containing gluten for a prescribed period of time prior to an endoscopy and/or blood testing for celiac disease. The length of time and amount of gluten that need to be consumed for a gluten challenge vary from source to source. Here are some examples of different recommendations for a gluten challenge (current as of July 5, 2014):

University of Chicago Celiac Disease Center: “For a gluten challenge we recommend eating 1/2 slice of bread or a cracker each day for the duration of the challenge. Prior to blood testing we recommend 12 weeks of eating gluten. Prior to an endoscopic biopsy we recommend 2 weeks of eating gluten. In the case of a severe reaction to gluten, a medical professional may opt to shorten the 12-week challenge and move immediately to an endoscopic biopsy.”

Celiac Disease Center at Columbia University: “In individuals who are willing to further pursue the question of whether they have celiac disease, we will advise a gluten challenge. This consists of ingesting at least 4 slices of bread a day for one to three months followed by an endoscopy and biopsy. There is no evidence that following antibody tests is beneficial in establishing a diagnosis of celiac disease because these tests are not sensitive in this setting.”

Celiac Disease Center at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center: “Gluten is reintroduced into the diet and after a period of time (ideally 6 to 8 weeks if the challenge can be tolerated for that long) blood tests and an intestinal biopsy are performed. If the gluten challenge is not tolerable for the full 8-week period blood tests and biopsy can be performed sooner but this can lead to a false negative result.”

In addition, Dr. Leffler and colleagues published a paper in 2013 showing that the majority of patients with celiac disease will test positive after eating >3g gluten/day for 2 weeks. A typical piece of wheat bread contains about 5g of gluten.

Despite all of the confusion, there is hope on the horizon for a shorter gluten challenge in the future.  Researchers at the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute in Australia have been developing a blood test that measures gluten-reactive T cells, immune cells that increase in response to gluten in those with celiac disease, via cytokine release assays.  In a pilot study published earlier this year, patients with celiac disease had a significant jump in blood levels of gluten-responsive T cells, compared to controls, after only 3 days of consuming gluten. Per Dr. Jason Tye-Din, one of the researchers working on this test, “We hope that larger studies can validate these findings and establish its role in the diagnosis of celiac disease.” For the sake of my gluten-light kids, and everyone else who is in a similar situation in regards to diagnosis, I hope he is right.

A press release regarding the study can be found here.

Out of curiosity, have any of you been diagnosed with celiac after doing a gluten challenge? If so, do you remember how much gluten you had to eat and for how long prior to testing?

Full reference:

Ontiveros NTye-Din JAHardy MYAnderson RP. Ex-vivo whole blood secretion of interferon (IFN)-γ and IFN-γ-inducible protein-10 measured by enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay are as sensitive as IFN-γ enzyme-linked immunospot for the detection of gluten-reactive T cells in human leucocyte antigen (HLA)-DQ2·5(+) -associated coeliac disease. Clin Exp Immunol. 2014 Feb;175(2):305-15.

 

“Gluten intolerance” can actually be subclinical celiac disease

glutenintolerant

I think most of us have met people who have symptoms of celiac disease, but when tested, are told that their celiac antibody blood tests and biopsy results are negative (normal). Some of these people are labeled “gluten intolerant” or “gluten sensitive” by their doctors, others are told they may have “early” celiac disease, or “pre” celiac disease, and the rest are told that they have nothing wrong and are often advised to continue to eat gluten.  Many continue to eat gluten and find themselves getting sicker and sicker, with an improvement or disappearance of symptoms when they go gluten-free.  Then, when they go gluten-free, since they are “gluten intolerant” as opposed to having celiac disease, it is unclear how closely they need to be followed for vitamin deficiencies, the development of additional autoimmune disorders, and other problems that are associated with long-standing celiac disease.

Whenever I hear that a person is “gluten intolerant” I wonder whether or not the diagnosis of celiac disease was actually missed.  Celiac blood antibody testing can be unreliable in infants and toddlers, people who have a condition called serum IgA deficiency (occurs in up to 3% of celiacs), and when patients are tested after they have already started on the gluten-free diet. Likewise, endoscopies and biopsies are often done incorrectly (see link) which can lead to celiac-induced intestinal damage being missed.

I recently read, with much interest, an article called, “Intestinal-mucosa anti-transglutaminase antibody assays to test for genetic gluten intolerance,” which was published this month by a group of celiac researchers in Italy. Although it’s a bit technical, I will do my best to summarize it for you.

In this study, the gluten-intolerant subjects consisted of 78 pediatric patients who had symptoms of celiac disease but normal celiac antibodies (anti-TTG, also called TTG IgA) and normal small bowel biopsies.  None of the subjects were IgA deficient. Of the 78 gluten intolerant subjects, 12 were found to have anti-TTG antibodies present in the tissue biopsies from their intestines–to clarify, anti-TTG antibodies were found in their intestines, but not in their blood. 3 of the 12 patients in this “gluten intolerant” group, with TTG antibodies localized to the intestine only, were started on a GFD diet and they all had improvement in symptoms and anemia after 24 months on the gluten-free diet. Of the 9 patients with anti-TTG antibodies in the intestines who were continued on a gluten-containing diet, 2 of the 12 had celiac disease at 24 month follow-up. The remaining 7 “gluten intolerant” subjects who remained on gluten-containing diets appeared to have an improvement in symptoms at the 24 month mark, but it is unclear if this reflected a period of remission v. a true resolution of the intestinal antibody response, as there has been no long term follow-up, and as far as I can tell, biopsies were not repeated.

Although this study has a very small sample size, it demonstrates that there are some “gluten intolerant” patients who actually have subclinical celiac disease. In these cases, the celiac immune response is contained to the intestines only and villous atrophy (the hallmark of celiac disease) has not yet occurred. It appears that these individuals benefit from treatment with the gluten free diet.

I am curious to see if the long-term follow-up of the remaining 7 gluten intolerant subjects will be published in the future, and if some of them will also go on the develop celiac disease. I am also curious to see if celiac antibody testing of intestinal biopsy specimens will eventually become part of the standard of care in the clinical investigation of celiac disease.

Reference:

Quaglia, S, De Leo, L, Ziberna, F, et al. Intestinal-mucosa anti-transglutaminase antibody assays to test for genetic gluten intolerance. Cellular and Molecular Immunology advance online publication, 28 April 2014; doi:10.1038/cmi.2014.32.

ID-10039017

“Celiac Disease Now”

Note: This is part 2 of several posts summarizing information discussed at the International Celiac Disease Symposium (ICDS) 2013 in Chicago 9/23-9/25. 

The introductory lecture of the clinical forum of the International Celiac Disease Symposium (ICDS) 2013 in Chicago last week was entitled “Celiac Disease Today: An Overview” given by Drs. Alessio Fasano and Peter Green.

Although the official slides and presentations from the symposium are not yet available for purchase, based on my notes the following topics were addressed during this opening session:

Celiac Disease involves both an innate and an adaptive immune system response to gluten. 1 in 133 Americans have Celiac Disease. The risk of Celiac Disease in 1st degree relatives of Celiac patients (parents, siblings, and children) is 1 in 22. The risk in 2nd degree relatives (aunts and uncles and grandparents) is 1 in 39.  Research has shown that the true prevalence of Celiac Disease has increased by 15% in the last few decades.  Most people with Celiac Disease (83%) are unaware that they have it…

Although the current “gold standard” for diagnosing Celiac Disease is to perform an endoscopy and small intestinal biopsy, Dr. Fasano did bring up the concept of the “4 out of 5” rule, in which some have proposed that Celiac Disease can be diagnosed if a patient meets at least 4 of the following 5 criteria:

  1. Adverse symptoms when gluten is ingested
  2. Elevated Celiac antibodies on serology (blood tests)
  3. An improvement in symptoms when gluten is removed from the diet
  4. Genetic markers (HLA DQ2 and/or 8, although he did mention that 1-2% of Celiacs are DQ2 and DQ8 negative)
  5. Abnormal small intestinal (duodenal) biopsy

Anti-TTG IgA antibodies are greater than 95% sensitive and 95% specific for Celiac Disease.  The DGP IgA antibodies have a sensitivity and specificity of greater than 90%.

No one is born with Celiac Disease and it can develop at any age. Celiac Disease involves a shift from gluten tolerance to an immune (autoimmune) response to gluten.  The current thinking is that in order to develop Celiac Disease, one must have a genetic predisposition, ingest gluten, and be exposed to a (yet to be defined) environmental factor. In order to figure out exactly what the environmental factor(s) are, researchers will need to follow a large cohort of children from birth and monitor them for the development of Celiac Disease.  We did learn later during the conference that this is actually being done as part of the “Prevent Celiac Disease Study” in Europe, which I will discuss in a later post (www.preventCD.com).

It is now believed that a change in the gut microbiome (bacteria) is involved in the pathogenesis and development of Celiac Disease.  Although our gut microbiomes are inherited from our mothers,  the composition of our gut bacteria is continually changing.  There has been some recent research showing that birth by c-section increases a child’s risk of Celiac Disease by 2-3x. During a normal vaginal delivery newborns’ digestive tracts are colonized by bacteria that they pick up from their mothers’ bodies during labor and delivery.  During a c-section this mother to infant transfer of bacteria does not take place.

There are over 70 clinical trials of Celiac Disease going on right now, many of which are currently enrolling subjects.  You can check out www.clinicaltrials.gov and search for “celiac disease” for more information.

Dr. Green stated that currently recognized gluten related disorders include Celiac Disease, gluten ataxia, dermatitis herpetiformis, wheat allergy, and non celiac gluten sensitivity (NCGS).  NCGS was discussed at the ICDS pre-conference (see my previous post for more details).  Celiac Disease can be differentiated from these disorders by the presence of intestinal inflammation and villous atrophy.  Based on a 2012 publication, only 17% of people with Celiac Disease have actually been diagnosed. Young men in the age range of 20-30 have the lowest rates of diagnosis.

Currently recognized risk factors for Celiac Disease include formula feeding, being introduced to gluten before 4 months of life or after 7 months of life, being born during the winter months, PPI (proton pump inhibitor, a type a reflux medication) use, and frequent respiratory infections during infancy.  Much of this information comes from Sweden, where there was an epidemic of Celiac Disease in children during the 1980s and 1990s which triggered much research and analysis.

We were cautioned of a few pitfalls in the diagnosis of Celiac Disease, many of which I will describe in more detail in future posts.  Some of the researchers have found that TTG (tissue transglutaminase) antibody testing from certain labs can be unreliable.  Likewise, some research has shown that only 35% of the biopsies performed during evaluations for Celiac Disease are done correctly. Most GI docs take only 2 samples of small bowel, despite the current recommendations that 4-6 samples be taken.

Although Celiac Disease is often associated with digestive symptoms, many patients do not have any symptoms at all (i.e. they are picked up because they are screened due to having a family member with Celiac).  Some of the most severe cases of Celiac Disease have been found in patients whose only symptom is anemia (low red blood cell count).  On the flip side, a 2009 study showed that only 51% of patients with symptoms of Celiac Disease were actually screened.

A few sort of depressing stats:

-only 20% of patients with Celiac Disease have adequate follow-up after diagnosis

-the average U.S. medical student learns about Celiac Disease for one hour during medical school (I can personally relate to this one!)

And things that I think everyone should know:

-If a patient has dermatitis herpertiformis (DH), then they have Celiac Disease. Dr. Green stated that if one has DH, there is no need for a small bowel biopsy.

-1st degree family members of Celiac Disease patients should be screened every 5 years.

-The Celiac Center at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston has a great new website called “Celiac Now.” Check it out here.

More ICDS information to come soon…Also, any questions are welcome in the meantime!