August 01, 2020

Should I get tested for celiac disease if a close relative has it?

Q: My mother had celiac disease. I don't have signs or symptoms of the condition, but I hear it runs in families. Is it something that I should get checked for?

A: Yes, it is. A recent Mayo Clinic study found that as many as 44% of first-degree relatives — parents, siblings or children — of someone with celiac disease also had the disease. Most prior studies suggested a lower but still significant risk of around 10% of first-degree relatives also having the disease. Of those who tested positive, most weren't aware they were at risk, and 94% had symptoms that either weren't typical or had no symptoms at all.

Celiac disease is an autoimmune disorder — a condition in which your immune system overreacts to something that's normally harmless. In the case of celiac disease, when you eat foods that contain gluten, your immune system responds to the gluten as it would to a germ or other foreign invader — it tries to attack and destroy it. The trouble is, your small intestine pays the price. The constant attack on gluten irritates and inflames your small intestine, damaging the tiny, hairlike projections (villi) along its lining. Villi are necessary to absorb vitamins, minerals and other nutrients from the food you eat.

Evidence indicates that first-degree relatives of people with celiac disease are at highest risk of the disease, with siblings topping the risk chart. Mayo Clinic doctors say that having a firstdegree relative with the disease is reason enough to request a screening, regardless of whether you have signs or symptoms.

Of note, you need to remain on a diet containing gluten for the screening test to be useful. Knowing that you have the...