What is the role of gluten-free diet in the treatment of dermatitis herpetiformis?

Updated: Mar 06, 2020
  • Author: Jami L Miller, MD; Chief Editor: Dirk M Elston, MD  more...
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Dietary intake of gluten causes the disease, and elimination of gluten from the diet improves it.

A position statement by the American Gastroenterological Association (AGA) Institute advises that treatment for patients with dermatitis herpetiformis, like that of all patients with celiac disease, requires a strict, lifelong adherence to a gluten-free diet. The AGA stresses the importance of patient education, motivation, and support in maintaining adherence, and recommends consultation with an experienced dietician, referral to a support group, and clinical follow up for compliance, as well as treatment of nutritional deficiency states. [55]

Most patients (as many as 80%) who can maintain a gluten-free diet respond with control of their skin disease. Some patients are able to discontinue dapsone therapy. Compliance with a gluten-free diet is difficult and requires a motivated patient, and the best treatment response occurs with absolute gluten restriction in the diet.

Strict dietary vigilance may be required for 5-12 months before the dapsone dose can be reduced.

Maintaining a gluten-free diet is the only sustainable method of eliminating the disease, not only from the skin, but also from the GI mucosa.

Patients on a gluten-reduced diet may experience a decrease in symptoms; therefore, such a diet can reduce the dosage of dapsone required for disease control.

Neither IgA deposition nor circulating antibodies correlate with gluten intake in short-duration studies; however, some studies have suggested a correlation with complement deposition. Avoidance of dietary gluten for 10 years or more has resulted in loss of cutaneous IgA deposits, which then return upon reinstitution of gluten in the diet.

Elemental diets may improve the disease within weeks. [56, 57] These diets consist of free amino acids, small amounts of triglycerides, and short-chain polysaccharides; they are marketed by pharmaceutical companies. One report has suggested that this improvement may be independent of gluten ingestion; however, this finding has not been confirmed. [57]

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