What causes coeliac disease?

What causes coeliac disease?

Currently, experts do not fully understand the reasons behind why coeliac disease develops. It is also unclear why some people suffer with severe symptoms, whilst others have milder symptoms or no symptoms at all.

There are some factors that lead to an increased risk of developing coeliac disease.

Does coeliac disease run in families?

Yes, if you have a first degree relative (one of your parents or a sibling) with coeliac disease, your chances of developing coeliac disease increase from 1% (the general population) to 10%.  It is important to remember there is still a 90% chance that you will not develop the condition, and if you are diagnosed with coeliac disease yourself, a 90% chance you won’t pass it on to your child.

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Coeliac disease is linked to a group of genes called HLA-DQ genes, which are responsible for the development of the immune system.  Mutations in these genes are strongly associated with coeliac disease, however, these mutations are common in up to one third of the general population.  As a result, although it’s impossible to develop coeliac disease if you don’t carry these genes, they cannot be blamed exclusively for the development of coeliac disease.

So what could trigger the development of coeliac disease?

There some environmental factors that could contribute to the development of coeliac disease.

Although it is important to introduce gluten into your baby’s diet if you have coeliac disease yourself, you should wait until they are over six months before you do so.  There is evidence to suggest that introducing gluten before babies are three months old can increase their risk of developing coeliac disease. 

Children who have had particular types of gut infections (stomach bugs), may have an increased chance of developing coeliac disease in the future. Periods of intense stress, surgery or other major life events have also been shown to trigger the development of coeliac disease in genetically susceptible individuals.

The potential to develop coeliac disease (ie the right genetic profile) is present from birth, however coeliac disease can develop at any age (most commonly in middle-age). It’s possible to carry the genes for coeliac disease your whole life but never develop the condition.