Is Celiac Disease Hereditary?

Mouth Swab
Some tests are as simple as a mouth swab.

If someone in your family has been diagnosed with celiac disease, it may leave you wondering as to whether or not celiac disease is hereditary. The answer to this puzzle is yes. Celiac disease is an autoimmune disorder that runs in families. However, not all cases of celiac disease are triggered by a genetic history.

Genetics and the Celiac Disease Risk Factor

Studies to better understand the role of genetics in celiac disease are ongoing. While research has provided a better understanding of this autoimmune disease, researchers are hopeful that they will be able to put together a gene mapping strategy in the near future.

According to The University of Chicago Celiac Disease Center, today, one in 133 Americans have celiac disease. Because celiac disease runs in families, when someone is diagnosed with celiac disease it is a good idea for other members of the family to be tested to see if they are genetically at risk. If a person is diagnosed with celiac disease, the risk of developing celiac disease is one in 22 for other members of the celiac's immediate family. If your grandparent, aunt, uncle or cousin is diagnosed with celiac disease the risk is one in 39.

Environmental Factors

Along with genetics, environmental factors can also play a part in triggering the disease. Gluten is implicated as secondary culprit in every case. However, environmental influences may have played a role in triggering your newfound gluten intolerance.

Possible environmental influences include:

  • Childbirth
  • Infection
  • Physical injury
  • Pregnancy
  • Severe stress
  • Surgery

Screening and Testing

For those at risk for celiac disease, lifetime screening should become part of routine physicals. The sooner a person knows they have celiac disease, the sooner they can implement the steps needed to limit the effects of gluten on their digestive tract and overall health. Celiac disease genetic testing looks for the high-risk patterns DQ2 and DQ8. Testing is complicated, and labs that don't look for both patterns may deliver an inaccurate conclusion. While it is believed that both DQ2 and DQ8 are necessary for celiac disease, this is not always the case. Some people, especially older men, who test negative for DQ2 and DQ8 may still be gluten intolerant and require further blood and tissue testing. It is also important to note that for those who test positive for DQ2 and DQ8, it does not mean celiac disease is present, only that the risk for it is greater.

Along with screening to determine genetic risk, tests are available for gluten sensitivity as well as for celiac disease. The test procedure differs depending on what a doctor is looking for specifically. Some tests are as simple as a mouth swab and others require the drawing of blood. If celiac disease runs in your family, it is best to have tests run by laboratories that specialize in diagnosing celiac disease. They are equipped not only to diagnose your condition, but in many cases will be able to provide the statistical risk to your children as well.

Celiac Disease and Gender

Another risk factor for celiac disease which is linked to heredity is gender. This risk factor is not a clear-cut indicator, either. Men who don't have the classic DQ2 and DQ8 patterns may be at higher risk than women, but women who inherit the risk genes from their father tend to be at higher risk.


Celiac disease is more prominent in people of Northern European descent, but it is found among people throughout Europe. However, celiac disease is not uncommon among African Americans, Asians and Hispanics.

See a Specialist

If someone in your family has been diagnosed with celiac disease, genetic testing can help identify who else in the family is at risk. Not every doctor has the knowledge or expertise needed to order these tests or the ability to accurately interpret test results, so it is important to choose a doctor who understands this condition.

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Is Celiac Disease Hereditary?