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BACKGROUND: Although arthritis is recognized as an extra-intestinal manifestation of celiac disease, little is known about the clinical course and outcomes of pediatric celiac-associated arthritis. This study describes clinical characteristics, treatments, and outcomes of children with celiac-associated arthritis.
METHODS: This was a retrospective cohort study of children with celiac disease seen in pediatric rheumatology clinic between 2004 and 2021 for joint complaints. Data was abstracted from electronic health records. Patient demographics and clinical manifestations were evaluated using standard descriptive statistics. Physician- and patient-reported outcomes were evaluated at the index visit, 6-month follow-up, and last recorded visit, and were compared using Wilcoxon signed-rank tests.
RESULTS: Twenty-nine patients with celiac disease were evaluated for joint complaints, and 13 were diagnosed with arthritis. Their mean age was 8.9 years (SD 5.9), and 61.5% were female. Celiac disease diagnosis was made before arthritis diagnosis in only 2 cases (15.4%). Initial testing that led to the celiac disease diagnosis was obtained by the rheumatologist in 6 cases (46.2%). Only 8 patients (61.5%) had concomitant GI symptoms, and of these, 3 patients had BMI z-scores <-1.64 and 1 had impaired linear growth. Arthritis presentation was most often oligoarticular (76.9%) and asymmetric (84.6%). Most cases required systemic therapy (n = 11, 84.6%) with DMARDs, biologics, or both. Of the 10 patients who required systemic therapy and reported compliance with the gluten-free diet, 3 (30%) were able to stop systemic medications. Two of 3 patients who cleared celiac serologies came off systemic medications. Statistically significant improvement was noted in the number of joints involved (p = 0.02) and physician global assessment of disease activity (p = 0.03) between the index and final visit.
CONCLUSIONS: Rheumatologists play an important role in the identification of celiac disease, as arthritis was the presenting symptom in most cases and was not always associated with GI symptoms or poor growth. The arthritis was most often oligoarticular and asymmetric. Most children required systemic therapy. The gluten-free diet may not be sufficient to manage arthritis, but antibody clearance may be an indicator of higher likelihood of disease control off medications. Outcomes are promising with a combination of diet and medical therapy.