Intestinal lymphangiectasia in adults.
Hugh James Freeman, Department of Medicine (Gastroenterology), University of British Columbia, Vancouver, BC, V6T 1W5, Canada.
Intestinal lymphangiectasia in the adult may be characterized as a disorder with dilated intestinal lacteals causing loss of lymph into the lumen of the small intestine and resultant hypoproteinemia, hypogammaglobulinemia, hypoalbuminemia and reduced number of circulating lymphocytes or lymphopenia. Most often, intestinal lymphangiectasia has been recorded in children, often in neonates, usually with other congenital abnormalities but initial definition in adults including the elderly has become increasingly more common.
Shared clinical features with the pediatric population such as bilateral lower limb edema, sometimes with lymphedema, pleural effusion and chylous ascites may occur but these reflect the severe end of the clinical spectrum. In some, diarrhea occurs with steatorrhea along with increased fecal loss of protein, reflected in increased fecal alpha-1-antitrypsin levels, while others may present with iron deficiency anemia, sometimes associated with occult small intestinal bleeding. Most lymphangiectasia in adults detected in recent years, however, appears to have few or no clinical features of malabsorption. Diagnosis remains dependent on endoscopic changes confirmed by small bowel biopsy showing histological evidence of intestinal lymphangiectasia. In some, video capsule endoscopy and enteroscopy have revealed more extensive changes along the length of the small intestine.
A critical diagnostic element in adults with lymphangiectasia is the exclusion of entities (e.g. malignancies including lymphoma) that might lead to obstruction of the lymphatic system and "secondary" changes in the small bowel biopsy. In addition, occult infectious (e.g. Whipple's disease from Tropheryma whipplei) or inflammatory disorders (e.g. Crohn's disease) may also present with profound changes in intestinal permeability and protein-losing enteropathy that also require exclusion. Conversely, rare B-cell type lymphomas have also been described even decades following initial diagnosis of intestinal lymphangiectasia.
Treatment has been historically defined to include a low fat diet with medium-chain triglyceride supplementation that leads to portal venous rather than lacteal uptake. A number of other pharmacological measures have been reported or proposed but these are largely anecdotal. Finally, rare reports of localized surgical resection of involved areas of small intestine have been described but follow-up in these cases is often limited.
Labels: adults, Crohn's Disease, enteroscopy, hypoalbuminemia, hypogammaglobulinemia, hypoproteinemia, inflammatory disorders, intestinal lymphangiectasia, lymphopenia