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Celiac Disease in Children: Risks and Symptoms

Risk Factors

Children of any age, race or gender can develop celiac disease. However, there are some factors that can put a child at increased risk for celiac disease:

  • 1st or 2nd degree relative with celiac
    Celiac disease has a hereditary basis, so it is more common in those with a family history of the condition.
  • Some autoimmune diseases
    Having an autoimmune disorder makes you more likely to develop other autoimmune diseases, like celiac.
  • HLA-DQ2 and DQ8 genes
    95% of people with celiac disease have either or both of the HLA-DQ2 or DQ8 genes. Having one or both of these genes does not mean that you will develop celiac, but if you have celiac, you likely have the gene.


The signs of celiac disease can vary, and they can appear at any age. In children, symptoms can appear as early as 6 months old. Irritability is a common symptom in children.

Other frequent symptoms can include:

  • chronic diarrhea or constipation
  • abdominal pain
  • vomiting
  • bloating and gas
  • fatigue
  • damaged or discolored tooth enamel
  • skin rashes (known as dermatitis herpetiformis)
  • iron deficiency anemia
  • decreased appetite
  • delayed growth or puberty
  • thin bones or frequent fractures
  • failure to thrive
  • short stature

By the time these symptoms have appeared, some reversible damage to the child’s small intestine has already occurred. If you think your child may have celiac disease, contact your pediatrician immediately.  He/she can order screening tests for celiac disease, or under the appropriate circumstances, refer your child to a pediatric gastroenterologist.

Children with No Symptoms

Some children are asymptomatic, meaning they show no outward signs or overt symptoms of celiac disease. For these children, it is even more critical to identify risk factors and get tested, even if the child appears to be healthy.  This group of children typically represents those children with a family history of celiac disease.

*Medical content reviewed by Karen Francolla, MD, Center for Pediatric G.I. and Nutrition, Hackensack University Medical Center.



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