Objectives: The clinical presentations of celiac crisis and refeeding syndrome in celiac disease are almost similar, but information about refeeding syndrome is scarce. We are reporting for the first time 5 cases of refeeding syndrome in children with celiac disease that could have otherwise been labeled as celiac crisis.
Methods: From January to December 2010, a chart review of hospital records of all celiac disease cases was performed, and refeeding syndrome was ascribed in those celiac patients who deteriorated clinically after initiation of a gluten-free diet and had biochemical parameters suggestive of refeeding syndrome such as hypophosphatemia, hypokalemia, hypocalcemia, and hypoalbuminemia.
Results: Of the total 35 celiac disease patients, 5 (median age 6.5 [range 2.2–10] years, 3 boys) were identified as having refeeding syndrome. All 5 children were severely malnourished (body mass index <14 kg/m2) and all of them had anemia, hypophosphatemia, hypokalemia, hypoalbuminemia, and hypocalcemia, meaning that they had the perfect setting for developing refeeding syndrome. At the same time, their clinical features fulfilled the criteria for celiac crisis except that their symptoms have worsened after the introduction of a gluten-free diet. Nevertheless, instead of using steroids, they were managed as refeeding syndrome in terms of correction of electrolytes and gradual feeding, and that led to a successful outcome in all of them.
Conclusions: Severely malnourished patients with celiac disease are at risk of developing potentially life-threatening refeeding syndrome, which may mimic celiac crisis, especially in developing countries. Early recognition and appropriate treatment are the keys to a successful outcome.