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Understanding Autoimmune Diseases, Including Autoimmune Thyroid Conditions
What Are the Causes of Autoimmune Diseases, Including Autoimmune Thyroid Disease Like Graves' Disease and Hashimoto's Disease

Adapted by Mary Shomon

What Are the Causes of Autoimmune Diseases?

Are they contagious? No autoimmune disease has ever been shown to be contagious or "catching." Autoimmune diseases do not spread to other people like infections. They are not related to AIDS, nor are they a type of cancer.

Are they inherited? The genes people inherit contribute to their susceptibility for developing an autoimmune disease. Certain diseases such as psoriasis can occur among several members of the same family. This suggests that a specific gene or set of genes predisposes a family member to psoriasis. In addition, individual family members with autoimmune diseases may inherit and share a set of abnormal genes, although they may develop different autoimmune diseases. For example, one first cousin may have lupus, another may have dermatomyositis, and one of their mothers may have rheumatoid arthritis.

Examples of Autoimmune Diseases:
(listed by the Main Target Organs)

Nervous Systems: Gastrointestinal System:
  Multiple sclerosis   Crohn's Disease
  Myasthenia gravis   Ulcerative colitis
  Autoimmune neuropathies   Primary biliary cirrhosis
     such as Guillain-Barré   Autoimmune hepatitis
  Autoimmune uveitis    
      Endocrine Glands:
  Blood:   Type 1 or immune mediated
  Autoimmune hemolytic anemia      diabetes mellitus
  Pernicious anemia   Grave's Disease
  Autoimmune thrombocytopenia   Hashimoto's thyroiditis
      Autoimmune oophoritis and
  Blood Vessels:      orchitis
  Temporal artertis   Autoimmune disease of the
  Anti-phospholipid syndrome      adrenal gland
  Vasculitides such as    
     Wegener's granulomatosis   Multiple Organs Including the
  Behcet's disease   Musculoskeletal Systems:*
      Rheumatoid arthritis
  Skin:   Systemic lupus erythematosus
  Psoriasis   Scleroderma
  Dermatitis herpetiformis   Polymyositis, dermatomyositis
  Pemphigus vulgaris   Spondyloarthropathies such as
  Vitiligo      ankylosing spondylitis
      Sjogren's syndrome
*These diseases are also called connective tissue (muscle, skeleton, tendons, fascia, etc.) diseases.

The development of an autoimmune disease may be influenced by the genes a person inherits together with the way the person's immune system responds to certain triggers or environmental influences.

What other factors may influence the development of autoimmune diseases? Some autoimmune diseases are known to begin or worsen with certain triggers such as viral infections. Sunlight not only acts as a trigger for lupus but can worsen the course of the disease. It is important to be aware of the factors that can be avoided to help prevent or minimize the amount of damage from the autoimmune disease. Other less understood influences affecting the immune system and the course of autoimmune diseases include aging, chronic stress, hormones, and pregnancy.

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All information is intended for your general knowledge only and is not a substitute for medical advice or treatment for specific medical conditions. You should seek prompt medical care for any specific health issues and consult your physician or health practitioner before starting a new treatment program. Please see our full disclaimer.