Association of Adult Celiac Disease With Surgical Abdominal Pain: A Case-Control Study in Patients Referred to Secondary Care

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Background:Acute abdominal pain is the most common indication for surgical admission. Nonspecific abdominal pain (NSAP) may account for up to 40% of cases. There has been no published prospective study in which adult patients presenting with acute abdominal pain are investigated for celiac disease.Aims:We aimed to assess the association of celiac disease with surgical abdominal pain.Patients and Methods:A case-control study was undertaken involving 300 consecutive new unselected patients presenting with acute abdominal pain (in a university hospital) and healthy controls (age and sex matched) without abdominal pain (n = 300). Initial investigations for celiac disease were immunoglobulins, IgA/IgG anti-gliadin (AGA), and endomysial antibodies (EMA). Any patient with a positive IgA AGA, EMA, or only IgG AGA in the presence of IgA deficiency was offered a small bowel biopsy to confirm the diagnosis.Results:There were 33 patients with abdominal pain who had positive antibodies, of whom 9 had histologically confirmed celiac disease (6 EMA positive; 3 EMA negative). One antibody positive patient (EMA in isolation) declined duodenal biopsy and the remaining 23 had normal duodenal mucosa. Within the control group, there were 2 cases of celiac disease. Compared with matched controls the association of acute abdominal pain with celiac disease gave an odds ratio 4.6. (P = 0.068, 95% confidence interval, 1.11–19.05). When only considering NSAP the prevalence of celiac disease was highly significant at 10.5% (9 of 86, P = 0.006). Patients’ symptoms improved on a gluten-free diet at 12- to 18-month follow-up.Conclusion:Celiac disease was diagnosed in 3% of patients who presented with unselected acute abdominal pain to secondary care. Targeting patients who have NSAP or celiac associated symptoms/diseases may improve the diagnostic yield.

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