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Dig Dis. 2009;27(4):494-501. doi: 10.1159/000233288. Epub 2009 Nov 4.

New insights into Whipple's disease - a rare intestinal inflammatory disorder.

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Division of Internal Medicine, Krankenhaus Maria Hilf, Daun, Germany.


Whipple's disease (WD) is a rare systemic infectious disorder caused by the actinomycete Tropheryma whipplei. This chronic disease, first described by Whipple as 'intestinal lipodystrophy', affects preferentially middle-aged white men who may present with weight loss, diarrhea, abdominal pain and arthralgia. Thus, it represents an important differential diagnosis of chronic diarrhea. A variety of other clinical patterns, such as involvement of the heart, lung, or central nervous system (CNS), are frequent. In addition, individuals with isolated heart valve involvement or asymptomatic carriers may be observed. The diagnosis often is established by small bowel biopsy, which is characterized by periodic acid-Schiff-positive inclusions representing the causative bacteria. T. whipplei can be detected by specific polymerase chain reaction, immunohistochemistry or electron microscopy and was cultured a few years ago. Several studies show that subtle defects of the cell-mediated immunity exist in active and inactive WD which may predispose individuals with a certain HLA type to a clinical manifestation of T. whipplei infection. As confirmed in a recent controlled trial, most patients respond well to a prolonged antibiotic treatment, but some patients with relapsing disease or CNS manifestation may have a poor prognosis. In the presentation, the relevance of WD in the differential diagnosis of chronic diarrhea and the new findings of this enigmatic rare disorder will be discussed.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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