My Relative Was Diagnosed With Celiac - What's My Risk?

cartoon of family
Celiac disease runs in families. CSA Archives/Getty Images

Question: If my relative has celiac disease, what are my chances of having it too?

Answer: Your chances may not be as high as you think, fortunately. Even though it's common for there to be multiple celiacs in families, your relative's diagnosis in no way means you're certain to get the condition too. There are many other factors involved.

First, the short answer: If you are a first-degree relative (parent, child, brother or sister) of a person with celiac disease, you have a 1 in 22 chance of developing the disease in your lifetime, according to the University of Chicago Celiac Disease Center 

If you are a second-degree relative (aunt, uncle, niece, nephew, grandparent, grandchild or half-sibling), your risk is 1 in 39.

Therefore, people whose close relatives have been diagnosed have a somewhat high chance of also being diagnosed — higher than the overall population, where the rate is less than 1%, but far from a certainty. And people whose more distant relatives have been diagnosed also have a higher-than-average chance of also being diagnosed, but again, far from certain.

What's Going on Here?

It's about the genetics, but also about other factors, some of which haven't even been identified yet.

You probably know that celiac disease is linked to your genes — the vast majority of people who develop the condition carry at least one of the two so-called celiac disease genes (in technical terms, HLA-DQ2 and HLA-DQ8). 

You inherit those genes from your mother and/or father ... which means the condition can run in your family.

But it takes more than having the gene to make you develop celiac disease, and in fact researchers aren't certain why some people with similar genetics get celiac while others do not.

Learn more:

    Your Next Steps

    It's relatively easy to be tested to see if you carry one or both of the celiac disease genes, so if you have a relative who's just been diagnosed with the condition, you may want to talk to your physician about ordering that test.

    Learn more:

    If you do have the celiac disease genes, you can have your antibody levels checked regularly, even if you have no obvious signs of the disease. Regular monitoring will allow the disease to be diagnosed quickly if it does develop, and early diagnosis will reduce the risk of associated complications.

    Learn more:

    On the other hand, if you do not carry the genes for celiac disease, then you and your children (unless they have inherited the celiac disease genes from their other parent) are at an extremely low risk for developing celiac disease.

    (Edited by Jane Anderson)


    University of Chicago Celiac Disease Center