To characterize the clinical, radiological, and electrophysiological laboratory profiles and histological features of patients who developed cognitive impairment temporally associated with celiac disease.
Patients with the onset of progressive cognitive decline within 2 years of symptomatic onset or with a severe exacerbation of biopsy-proved adult celiac disease were identified from the Mayo Clinic medical records from January 1, 1970, to December 31, 2005. Patients were excluded if an alternate cause of their cognitive impairment was identified.
Thirteen patients (5 women) were identified. The median age at cognitive impairment onset was 64 years (range, 45-79 years), which coincided with symptom onset or exacerbation of diarrhea, steatorrhea, and abdominal cramping in 5 patients. Amnesia, acalculia, confusion, and personality changes were the most common presenting features. The average initial Short Test of Mental Status score was 28 of a total of 38 (range, 18-34), which was in the moderately impaired range. The results of neuropsychological testing suggested a trend of a frontosubcortical pattern of impairment. Ten patients had ataxia, and 4 of them also had peripheral neuropathy. Magnetic resonance imaging of the head showed nonspecific T2 hyperintensities, and electroencephalography showed nonspecific diffuse slowing. Deficiencies in folate, vitamin B12, vitamin E, or a combination were identified in 4 patients, yet supplementation did not improve their neurological symptoms. Three patients improved or stabilized cognitively with gluten withdrawal. A detailed histological analysis revealed nonspecific gliosis.
A possible association exists between progressive cognitive impairment and celiac disease, given the temporal relationship and the relatively high frequency of ataxia and peripheral neuropathy, more commonly associated with celiac disease. Given the impact for potential treatment of similar cases, recognition of this possible association and additional studies are warranted.