Dermatitis herpetiformis – a celiac disease of the skin

Dermatitis herpetiformis (DH) is a skin disease characterized by an intensely itchy rash. Just like celiac disease, DH is caused by a gluten intolerance.

DH is an autoimmune condition that mainly affects young adults (ages 18 to 45), more commonly in men than in women. Not much is known yet about how the condition develops, except that it is triggered by a gluten intolerance.

The blistery rash in DH is usually symmetrical and located on the elbows, knees, nape of the neck, scalp, upper back and buttocks. It can also develop on the face. The rash and watery blisters usually appear in clusters.

Although people with DH are expected to eventually develop celiac disease, only about 15 percent of patients have symptoms of both conditions when they initially get diagnosed with DH. Diagnosing DH normally requires taking a skin biopsy.

For people with DH, the treatment involves avoiding all dietary gluten for the rest of their life. Following a strict gluten-free diet not only makes it possible to control the rash, it can also prevent an eventual onset of the gastrointestinal symptoms associated with celiac disease. There are also treatments to help relieve the intense itching caused by the rash.

For more information, visit the website of the Fondation québécoise de la maladie cœliaque.

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