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Villous Atrophy


Updated May 16, 2014

Written or reviewed by a board-certified physician. See About.com's Medical Review Board.


Villous atrophy occurs when the villi -- the microscopic, finger-like tentacles that line the wall of the small intestine -- erode away, leaving a virtually flat surface.

In celiac disease, patients usually have an endoscopy with a biopsy to determine the extent of damage to the small intestine. That damage is rated by the Marsh Score.

A score of Marsh Stage 3 indicates partial to total villous atrophy, while a score of Marsh Stage 4 indicates total villous atrophy plus damage to the intestinal crypts, the depressions in the intestinal lining that surround the villi.

Pronunciation: vill-us aa-tro-fee

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