There is a recognised association between the "microscopic" forms of colitis and coeliac disease. There are a variety of subtle small intestinal changes in patients with "latent" gluten sensitivity, namely high intraepithelial lymphocyte (IEL) counts, abnormal mucosal permeability, and high levels of secretory IgA and IgM antibody to gliadin. These changes have hitherto not been investigated in microscopic colitis. Nine patients (four collagenous, five lymphocytic colitis) with normal villous architecture were studied. Small intestinal biopsies were obtained by Crosby capsule; small intestinal fluid was aspirated via the capsule. IEL counts were expressed per 100 epithelial cells, and intestinal IgA and IgM antigliadin antibody levels were measured by ELISA. Small intestinal permeability was measured by the lactulose:mannitol differential sugar permeability test. IEL counts were normal in all cases, median 17, range 7-30. Intestinal antigliadin antibodies were measured in six cases and were significantly elevated in two patients (both IgA and IgM). Intestinal permeability was measured in eight cases and was abnormal in two and borderline in one. These abnormalities did not overlap: four of nine patients had evidence of abnormal small intestinal function. Subclinical small intestinal disease is common in the two main forms of microscopic colitis.
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