Relatives of Celiac disease patients face an increased risk of autoimmune diseases. A study found that first-degree relatives of celiac patients are at an increased risk for autoimmune diseases. The findings were published in Clinical Gastroenterology and Hepatology.
Lead author Louise Emilsson said, “The prevalence of celiac disease in first-degree relatives of individuals with celiac is approximately 10 percent. Despite these findings, little is known about the risk of non-celiac autoimmune disease in these individuals. We found convincing results that close relatives are also at risk for these conditions, but more surprisingly, we found that spouses may also be at risk.”
The study was conducted using a nationwide, population-based observational cohort study. The study included over 84,000 first-degree relatives and spouses of celiac patients, and 430,942 controls.
The follow-up period averaged 10.8 years, where 4.3 percent of celiac patients developed non-celiac autoimmune disease, compared to 3.3 percent in the control group. Systemic lupus erythematosus, type I diabetes mellitus, and sarcoidosis were the most common non-celiac autoimmune diseases seen in patients.
Genetics can be used to explain the connection, but for spouses environmental factors may play a larger role. Spouses may share similar microbes – which may increase the risk.
An ascertainment bias may also play a role, as spouses are more likely to seek medical attention for autoimmune disease testing – in comparison to the general population – as they are more aware of such diseases.
Comorbidity between celiac disease and other autoimmune disorders
There are two main theories explaining the clear comorbidity between celiac disease and other autoimmune disorders. First, there may be a link between the genes of celiac disease and other autoimmune conditions. Second, if celiac disease is left untreated, it increases the risk for other autoimmune diseases.
Although it is still unclear as to which of the theories holds true, researchers believe there is a loss of intestinal barrier function, which may play a role in alternative autoimmune conditions. This notion implies that autoimmune diseases may be stopped or prevented, if genes that cause autoimmune diseases are identified and eliminated, and treatment begins early on.