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Understanding Autoimmune Diseases, Including Autoimmune Thyroid Conditions
Adapted by Thyroid Guide, Mary J. 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 ureitis
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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This article was adapted from information provided by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases
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