A substantial proportion of adult patients with celiac disease on a gluten-free diet exhibit persistent villous atrophy, and inadvertent gluten exposure may be one of the causes. The aim of the present study was to evaluate villous atrophy persistence after 2 years on a gluten-free diet in de novo adult patients with celiac disease with strict control of gluten exposure.
Symptomatic de novo adult patients with celiac disease were prospectively included. Clinical visits and dietary surveillance were scheduled every 6 months during a 2-year follow-up period. At each visit, fecal samples were collected and stored at −20 °C until analysis for gluten immunogenic peptides (f-GIPs). A follow-up duodenal biopsy was performed at 2 years. We evaluated the variables associated with persistent villous atrophy.
Seventy-six patients completed the study (36.5 ± 1.6 years, 73% women); persistent villous atrophy was observed in 40 (53%), whereas 72.5% were asymptomatic and 75% had negative serology. Detectable f-GIP >0.08 μg/g in at least 1 fecal sample was seen in 69% of patients. There were no significant differences in the median f-GIP at each visit and median area under the curve over the serial measurements between patients with persistent villous atrophy and those who recovered. On multivariate analysis, only older age was associated with persistent villous atrophy (32% for 16–30 years; 67% for >30 years; P = 0.016).
The rate of persistent villous atrophy after 2 years was high in adult patients with celiac disease on an intentionally strict gluten-free diet. Low-level ongoing inadvertent gluten exposure could be a contributing factor to persistent villous atrophy.