Introduction: Coeliac disease can be associated with hyposplenism and splenic atrophy, which may increase the patient’s risk for fatal infections caused by Streptococcus pneumoniae or Pneumococcus. It is general opinion that many more patients with coeliac disease have died from hyposplenism-related infections than those reported in literature.
Case report: A 62-year-old woman with recently diagnosed coeliac disease was hospitalized with high fever, disorientation, and nuchal rigidity. Cerebral computed tomography was negative. Laboratory tests showed an elevated leukocyte count and very high levels of C reactive protein. The cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) contained an increased number of mononuclear cells associated with a low glucose level and high protein concentrations. The CSF culture was positive for Streptococcus pneumoniae. Neurological conditions rapidly deteriorated with the onset of coma, and magnetic resonance imaging of the brain revealed initial signs of encephalitis extending above and below the tentorium. Abdominal ultrasonography disclosed splenic hypotrophy that raised the suspicion of hyposplenism. The diagnosis of hyposplenism was confirmed by demonstration of Howell-Jolly bodies in a peripheral blood smear.
Discussion: This is the first reported case of pneumococcal meningoencephalitis caused by splenic hypofunction in a patient with coeliac disease. When coeliac disease is diagnosed with a marked delay in an elderly patient, spleen function should always be assessed. If impaired, the patient should undergo vaccination with pneumococcal conjugate vaccine to prevent pneumococcal infections.
Coeliac disease; Hyposplenism; Streptococcus pneumoniae meningoencephalitis.