The Decreasing Prevalence of Severe Villous Atrophy in Dermatitis Herpetiformis: A 45-Year Experience in 393 Patients

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Abstract

Goals:

We analyzed from our prospectively collected series of patients with dermatitis herpetiformis (DH) whether small-bowel histologic findings are changing and how serum tissue transglutaminase (TG2) IgA antibodies correlate to mucosal damage.

Background:

DH is an extraintestinal manifestation of celiac disease presenting with itchy blistering rash and pathognomonic IgA deposits in the skin. Prominent gastrointestinal symptoms are rare, and small-bowel findings range from severe villous atrophy (SVA) and partial villous atrophy (PVA) to normal mucosa with inflammatory changes.

Methods:

The cohort included 393 patients (214 male and 179 female) with DH having small-bowel biopsies performed at Tampere University Hospital since 1970. The small-bowel findings were calculated in the three 15-year periods, and in the last period they were correlated with serum IgA class TG2 antibody levels measured by enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay.

Results:

The prevalence of SVA decreased significantly (P=0.032), from 42% in the first study period to 29% in the last study period. A concomitant increase was seen in PVA, from 33% to 41%, and normal villous architecture, from 25% to 30%. The patients with SVA (P<0.001) and PVA (P=0.046) had significantly higher TG2 antibody levels than those with normal villous architecture.

Conclusions:

This long-term study in patients with DH disclosed a significant decrease in the occurrence of SVA. Serum IgA TG2 antibody levels correlated to damage in the small bowel. The trend toward milder small-bowel histology in DH suggests that a similar pattern could occur in the pool of undiagnosed celiac disease from which DH develops.

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