The mechanisms responsible for bowel disturbances in celiac disease are still relatively unknown. Recent reports suggested that small bowel motor abnormalities may be involved in this pathological condition; however, there are no studies addressing small bowel transit in celiac disease before and after a gluten-free diet. We studied the mouth-to-cecum transit time of a caloric liquid meal in a homogeneous group of celiac patients presenting with clinical and biochemical evidence of malabsorption and complaining of diarrhea. Sixteen patients were recruited and investigated by means of hydrogen breath test through ingestion of 20 g lactulose together with an enteral gluten-free diet formula. A urinary D-xylose test was also done in each patient. Both breath tests and D-xylose tests were carried out basally and after a period of gluten-free diet. Twenty healthy volunteers were recruited as a control group and underwent the same breath testing. At the time of the diagnosis, mouth-to-cecum transit time was significantly prolonged in celiacs with respect to controls (243 +/- 10 vs 117 +/- 6 min, P = 0.0001). The D-xylose test was also abnormal (average urinary concentration 2.8 +/- 0.25 g, normal values >4.5). No correlation was found in patients between mouth-to-cecum transit time and urinary D-xylose output (r = 0.22). After the gluten-free diet period, mouth-to-cecum transit time in celiacs was significantly reduced compared to prediet transit (134 +/- 8 vs 243 +/- 10 min, P = 0.0001) and did not show statistical difference when compared to that found in controls (P = 0.1). The D-xylose test reverted to normal in all but two subjects, who were found to be noncompliant with the diet. Mouth-to-cecum transit time is significantly prolonged in patients affected by untreated celiac disease when compared to healthy controls. This alteration might not be correlated to intestinal malabsorption, and the prolonged orocecal transit could be due to impaired small bowel function (deranged motility?). Since intestinal transit returned to normal values after an adequate gluten-free period, a link with severe active mucosal lesions is suggestive.
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