What Is Latent Celiac Disease?

Latent celiac disease doesn't require dietary changes

doctor talking with woman
Hero Images / Getty Images

If your doctor has told you that you have latent celiac disease, it means that your celiac disease blood tests came back positive, but your duodenum (the part of your small intestine affected by celiac disease) doesn't show damage typical of celiac.


The diagnosis of celiac disease usually involves a series of celiac disease blood tests looking for specific antibodies, followed by an endoscopy looking for damage to your intestinal villi.

In latent celiac disease, your blood tests indicate celiac disease-related antibodies, but your intestines appear normal. However, one medical study shows that people with latent celiac disease have a very slightly increased risk of death when compared with people who don't have the condition.

Truthfully, latent celiac disease likely won't have a significant effect on you. Your doctor should schedule you for more frequent follow-up visits to monitor you for the development of full-blown celiac disease, but that's about it. You most likely won't have to change your diet.

How Latent Celiac Disease Affects You

In decades past, it was unusual for someone to be diagnosed with latent celiac disease. However, since celiac disease awareness is growing, and since many people, once diagnosed, are urging family members to be tested, as well, more people are being told they have the latent form of the condition.

People with true latent celiac disease show no typical or atypical celiac disease symptoms, a long list that can include diarrhea, constipation and other gastrointestinal ailments, depression, infertility and unexplained anemia.

If you don't have any celiac disease symptoms and your doctor says that your intestinal biopsy was normal, then most physicians won't advise you to follow the gluten-free diet.

You should follow up regularly with your doctor, however, because some people with positive blood tests (studies don't show exactly how many) develop full-blown celiac disease eventually.

If, however, you have celiac disease symptoms that correlate with your positive blood tests, you might want to discuss with your doctor the possibility of genetic testing.

But Should I Go Gluten-Free Anyway?

That's up to you, in consultation with your doctor. Some people do decide to go gluten-free on the basis of positive blood tests alone, even if they haven't been officially diagnosed with celiac disease, in an effort to stave off future health problems.

But if you choose this option, you need to make sure you've finished all medical testing for celiac disease first. Once you're gluten-free, you'll most likely test negative for celiac disease even if you have the condition, because the standard celiac disease tests look for damage you get when you're eating gluten.


The National Institutes of Health Development Conference on Celiac Disease, June 2004.

Columbia University Medical Center. Positive serologic tests in the presence of a normal biopsy (fact sheet).

Continue Reading