Why Do GI Symptoms Persist in Some Kids With Celiac Disease?

Elena Riboldi

January 23, 2023

One year after a diagnosis of celiac disease, more than 1 in 5 children present with functional gastrointestinal disorders (FGIDs) despite following a gluten-free diet (GFD). Developing FGIDs may be linked to caloric intake and percentage of food fat, but it does not change between a GFD with processed foods or a GFD with natural products. These are the main findings of a study run jointly by the "Federico II" University of Naples and the "Luigi Vanvitelli" University of Campania, the results of which were published in the World Journal of Gastroenterology.

Unlike in previous studies, the criteria used in this study (the Rome IV criteria) allowed investigators to diagnose FGIDs even when other organic diseases, such as celiac disease or chronic inflammatory bowel disease, were present. The evidence obtained shows that adult individuals with celiac disease are at an increased risk for functional abdominal pain, even if they adhere well to a GFD. The researchers at the University of Campania wanted to determine the prevalence of FGIDs in the pediatric age group, which has been a poorly explored area.

The study authors enrolled 104 pediatric patients (aged 1-18 years) who had been diagnosed with celiac disease. The patients were randomly divided into two groups. Group A (n = 55) received a controlled GFD with processed foods (diet 1), and group B (n = 49) received a controlled GFD with > 60% natural products (diet 2). The presence of FGIDs was assessed at diagnosis (T0) and after 12 months (T1), and any potential link to the type of diet was analyzed.

The number of symptomatic children at enrollment was 30 of 55 (54.5%) in group A and 25 of 49 (51%) in group B. After 12 months, despite negative serology for celiac disease, the prevalence of FGIDs was 10/55 (18%) in group A and 8/49 (16.3%) in group B. There was no statistically significant difference between the two groups at T1. The most common disorder was functional constipation, followed by postprandial distress syndrome. At T1, the macro- and micronutrient intake was similar between the two groups, with no significant differences in nutrient analysis. However, in both groups, the prevalence of FGIDs was lower in patients who were consuming fewer calories (odds ratio [OR] = 0.99, 95% CI, 0.99 – 1.00) and fat (OR = 0.33, 95% CI, 0.65 - 0.95). The figure was very close to being statistically significant (P = .055).

"This is the first study to show that the presence of functional GI symptoms in children with celiac disease on a GFD are possibly related to higher caloric and fat intake," write the study authors. "It remains to be determined whether the risk is due to the persistence of a chronic inflammatory process or to nutritional factors. Long-term monitoring studies will assist in determining the natural history of these functional symptoms."

This article was translated from Univadis Italy.

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