Letters to the Editor

Dermatitis Herpetiformis and a Gluten-Free Diet


Am Fam Physician. 2003 Feb 1;67(3):470-471.

to the editor: In the article, “Autoimmune Bullous Dermatoses: A Review,”1 one of the conditions the authors discuss is dermatitis herpetiformis. They suggest that gluten-sensitive enteropathy (celiac disease) is an associated manifestation of dermatitis herpetiformis and that a gluten-free diet is one way to treat dermatitis herpetiformis. I think dermatitis herpetiformis should rather be thought of as a variant or complication of untreated celiac disease.2 Supporting this is the fact that dermatitis herpetiformis and celiac disease share the same human leukocyte antigen haplotype and show similar results on serum and intestinal antibody testing. Typical pathologic changes of celiac disease are found on small intestinal biopsy in almost 100 percent of patients with dermatitis herpetiformis.2

A gluten-free diet should be recommended for life in patients with dermatitis herpetiformis. Longer duration of exposure to gluten has been associated with a higher incidence of autoimmune disorders such as type 1 diabetes, connective tissue diseases, autoimmune thyroid disease, and autoimmune hepatitis.3 Nonautoimmune complications of untreated celiac disease include osteoporosis, iron deficiency anemia and, most ominously, small intestinal lymphoma.

Silent and atypical celiac disease (dermatitis herpetiformis being an example of the latter) are now known to be common.4 All patients with dermatitis herpetiformis should be considered to have celiac disease, and a gluten-free diet should be recommended for life.


show all references

1. Bickle KM, Roark TR, Hsu S. Autoimmune bullous dermatoses: a review. Am Fam Physician. 2002;65:1861–70....

2. Fasano A, Catasi C. Current approaches to diagnosis and treatment of celiac disease: an evolving spectrum. Gastroenterology. 2001;120:636–51.

3. Ventura A, Magazzu G, Greco L. Duration of exposure to gluten and risk for autoimmune disorders in patients with celiac disease. SIGEP Study Group for Autoimmune Disorders in Celiac Disease. Gastroenterology. 1999;117:297–303.

4. Farrell RJ, Kelly CP. Celiac sprue. N Engl J Med. 2002;346:180–8.

In reply: I would like to thank Dr. Lovett for reiterating the importance of a gluten-free diet in the treatment of dermatitis herpetiformis. In Table 2 of our article,1 we list gluten-free diet as the first treatment of dermatitis herpetiformis and indicate that sulfones (Dapsone) are beneficial for the skin lesions only. As a dermatologist, I recommend a gluten-free diet and a gastroenterologic consultation for all of my patients who have dermatitis herpetiformis. I reserve sulfones for patients who are symptomatic and want immediate relief from their pruritus.


1. Bickle KM, Roark TR, Hsu S. Autoimmune bullous dermatoses: a review. Am Fam Physician. 2002;65:1861–70.

Send letters to afplet@aafp.org, or 11400 Tomahawk Creek Pkwy., Leawood, KS 66211-2680. Include your complete address, e-mail address, and telephone number. Letters should be fewer than 400 words and limited to six references, one table or figure, and three authors.

Letters submitted for publication in AFP must not be submitted to any other publication. Possible conflicts of interest must be disclosed at time of submission. Submission of a letter will be construed as granting the AAFP permission to publish the letter in any of its publications in any form. The editors may edit letters to meet style and space requirements.

This series is coordinated by Kenny Lin, MD, MPH, Associate Deputy Editor for AFP Online.



Copyright © 2003 by the American Academy of Family Physicians.
This content is owned by the AAFP. A person viewing it online may make one printout of the material and may use that printout only for his or her personal, non-commercial reference. This material may not otherwise be downloaded, copied, printed, stored, transmitted or reproduced in any medium, whether now known or later invented, except as authorized in writing by the AAFP. Contact afpserv@aafp.org for copyright questions and/or permission requests.

Want to use this article elsewhere? Get Permissions


May 2022

Access the latest issue of American Family Physician

Read the Issue

Email Alerts

Don't miss a single issue. Sign up for the free AFP email table of contents.

Sign Up Now

Navigate this Article