Children tested for autoimmune disease

in by criggs

Since autoimmune diseases are hereditary, do you recommend having your children tested whether they exhibit symptoms or not? If so, are the tests accurate and where do you get them done?

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1 Answer


The answer to this question is a very personal one. Yes, autoimmune diseases are hereditary, and yes, prevention should be taken into consideration for children with parents affected by autoimmune diseases. Laboratory testing though may not be the most appropriate answer.
Many physicians will not test children for autoimmune conditions unless there are symptoms present. There are a number of reasons for this. First, usually autoantibodies may not be present on laboratory testing unless symptoms are present (you have to have a high enough level of autoantibodies to show up on testing, and this usually causes symptoms). This is not to say that the autoantibodies are not necessarily present, it just means that the results may show a false negative, making someone think they do not have a particular autoimmune response, even if they do.

Another factor to take into consideration is that with autoimmune diseases, children who have parents with an autoimmune disease are not only at higher risk for developing the disease their parent has, but they are also at higher risk for developing a different autoimmune disease. For example, if a parent has Type 1 diabetes, their child is not only more likely to develop Type 1 diabetes, but also at a higher risk to develop celiac disease, inflammatory bowel disease, autoimmune thyroiditis or any other autoimmune disease. Each of these conditions has different testing, which can be costly and may not even produce results.

A lot of research is currently going into autoimmune diseases and improving testing for them. Currently autoimmune testing is fairly accurate, though it needs to be combined with signs, symptoms and physical exam to make a diagnosis. Until there is a general screening exam created for autoimmune diseases that covers the multitude of autoimmune diseases currently identified, it is hard to say that testing is an appropriate route for children at high risk for acquiring an autoimmune disease.

For parents who may be concerned about their child inheriting an autoimmune condition, a better focus may be to work on creating a healthy anti-inflammatory lifestyle for the child at an early age. Nutrition, exercise and healthy lifestyle choices can be very important in determining whether or not any diseases, especially autoimmune disease, develops in those who are predisposed.

Jenny Bennett, ND LAc

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Answered on January 22, 2014

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