What is Dermatitis Herpetiformis?

What is Dermatitis Herpetiformis?

Dermatitis Herpetiformis (DH) is a skin condition caused by an intolerance to gluten and is considered as the skin ‘symptom’ of coeliac disease.

Dermatitis Herpetiformis affects less people than coeliac disease at around 1 in 10,000.  Diagnosis of Dermatitis Herpetiformis is most commonly between 15 and 40 years of age; the condition is rare in children. Known as the 'skin symptom' of coeliac disease.

What are the symptoms of Dermatitis Herpetiformis?

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Symptoms of Dermatitis Herpetiformis include an itchy skin rash made up of raised red patches which may well blister. The rash tends to occur on elbows, knees and buttocks and usually occurs on both sides of the body.

How do I get diagnosed with Dermatitis Herpetiformis?

Diagnosis is usually by a skin biopsy, taken from an area with no rash.  The skin sample will then be checked for antibodies.  People with a positive skin biopsy result are then usually referred to a gastroenterologist for a gut biopsy (the same test used to diagnose coeliac disease). During this time, it is important to continue to include gluten containing foods in your diet to ensure an accurate result.  Whilst dermatitis herpetiformis is said to be the ‚skin symptom‘ of coeliac disease, between 30-40% of patients have abdominal symptoms as well. The majority of people with dermatitis herpetiformis also have the same kind of gut damage as people with coeliac disease.

How is Dermatitis Herpetiformis treated?

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The treatment for Dermatitis Herpetiformis is to follow a gluten free diet.  The time it takes for symptoms to improve vary from person to person but skin symptoms tend to take longer to improve than the usual gut symptoms of coeliac disease.

Using the drug Dapsone can also help to control the rash from dermatitis herpetiformis in the early stages although, unfortunately, there can be side effects. A gluten free diet is the most effective way of managing the condition.

Are there any health complications associated with Dermatitis Herpetiformis?

The same health complications are associated with both dermatitis herpetiformis and coeliac disease, such as osteoporosis. As with coeliac disease, the risk of these associated complications are greatly reduced if you follow a gluten-free diet.