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Definition - What is coeliac disease?

Dr. Schär Institute Definition Coeliac disease Gluten intolerance Villi
Healthy villi
Coeliac disease is a common autoimmune enteropathy triggered by the ingestion of gluten.
Coeliac disease is a permanent intolerance to gluten proteins found in a number of widely consumed cereal grains, including wheat, barley, spelt, rye, KAMUT®, and triticale. In children and adults with genetic predisposition, the ingestion of foods containing gluten causes an autoimmune reaction in the intestine. This results in chronic inflammation of the small intestinal mucosa and truncation of the villi, therefore reducing the absorptive capacity of the small intestine. If untreated, these characteristic histopathological changes result in malabsorption of key micronutrients and consequent nutritional deficiencies. However, the consumption of a strict gluten-free diet allows regeneration of the villi and resolution of symptoms. A lifelong gluten-free diet, in which all traces of gluten are avoided, is currently the only treatment available for the management of this condition.

Oslo definitions of coeliac disease

Due to lack of consensus on the use of terms related to coeliac disease and gluten, a multi-disciplinary task force of international physicians was convened to agree a set of definitions for the various types of coeliac disease based on presentation and symptoms, these were updated in 2013, and are referred to as ‘the Oslo definitions’ for coeliac disease and related terms [4]. The Oslo definitions are outlined below.


Classical coeliac disease

Coeliac disease presenting with signs and symptoms of malabsorption. Diarrhoea, steatorrhoea, weight loss or growth failure is required.

Non-classical coeliac disease

Coeliac disease presenting without signs and symptoms of malabsorption.

Subclinical coeliac disease

Coeliac disease that is below the threshold of clinical detection and without signs or symptoms sufficient to trigger coeliac testing in routine practice.

Symptomatic coeliac disease

Coeliac disease characterised by clinically evident gastrointestinal and/or extraintestinal symptoms attributable to gluten intake.

Potential coeliac disease

Individuals with a normal small intestinal mucosa who are at increased risk of developing coeliac disease as indicated by positive coeliac serology.

Refractory coeliac disease

Persistent or recurrent malabsorptive symptoms with villous atrophy despite a strict gluten-free diet for more than 12 months.
  1. West J, Logan RFA, Hill PG et al. Seroprevalence, correlates and characteristics of undetected coeliac disease in England. Gut 2003; 52:960-965
  2. Bingley PJ, Williams AJK, Norcross AJ et al. Undiagnosed coeliac disease at age seven: population-based prospective birth cohort study. BMJ 2004; 328:322-323
  3. West J, Fleming KM, Tata LJ et al. Incidence & Prevalence of celiac disease and dermatitis herpetiformis in the UK over two decades: Population-based study. American Journal of Gastroenterology 2014; 109:757-768.
  4. Ludvigsson JF, Leffler DA, Bai J. The Oslo definitions for coeliac disease and related terms. Gut 2013; 62:43-52.

Other chapters in the field of coeliac disease:

Further information on this topic

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Coeliac disease: the clinical chameleon

The chameleon is a well-known African reptile famous for its ability to change the colour of its skin in order to blend in with its surround-ings. In medicine, the term “chameleon-like” is used to describe diseases which can appear in many different forms. Coeliac disease, with its diverse, ever-changing nature, is one such disease.

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Catassi, C;

Coeliac Disease and Gluten Related Disorders in Russia and Former Soviet Republics (2015)

Elena Roslavtseva, MD, Ph.D.
Scientific Center for Children’s Health, Moscow

16th International Coeliac Disease Symposium 2015 in Prague
Pre-Conference Workshop on Gluten Sensitivity "The Evolving Planet of Gluten Related Disorders"

Celiac Disease: Ten Things That Every Gastroenterologist Should Know

There are 10 things that all gastroenterologists should know about celiac disease (CD).

(1) The immunoglobulin A tissue transglutaminase is the single best serologic test to use for the detection of CD.

(2) CD can be recognized endoscopically, and water immersion enhances villi detection, although a normal endoscopic appearance does not preclude the diagnosis.

(3) It is recommended that 4 biopsies be taken from the second part of the duodenum and 2 bulb biopsies be taken at the 9 o’clock and 12 o’clock positions to maximize the sensitivity for histologic confirmation of CD.

(4) Consider serologic testing of first-degree relatives, patients with type 1 diabetes mellitus, Down’s, Turner’s, and Williams’ syndromes, as well as those with premature osteoporosis, iron deficiency, abnormal liver biochemistries, and other manifestations of CD.

(5) Patients already on a prolonged gluten-free diet (GFD) should be tested for the presence of HLA DQ2 or DQ8, thereby avoiding the need for further evaluation of CD in non-allelic carriers.

(6) The basic treatment of CD is a strict, lifelong GFD, enabled by an expert dietitian.

(7) Newly diagnosed adults with CD should be assessed for micronutrient deficiencies (iron, B12, folate, zinc, copper), fat soluble vitamin deficiencies (vitamin D), and bone densitometry.

(8) All patients diagnosed with CD should have clinical follow-up to ensure response and adherence to a GFD.

(9) In those with persistent or relapsing symptoms, the robustness of the original diagnosis should be reviewed, gluten exposure sought, and a systematic evaluation for alternative and associated diseases performed.

(10) Evaluate those with refractory disease for malignant transformation.

Resource: Clin Gastroenterol Hepatol. 2014 Jul 19. pii: S1542-3565(14)01053-2
Oxentenko, A; Murray, J;
2014 July
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