What is the role of environmental factors in the etiology of Graves disease?

Updated: Mar 23, 2018
  • Author: Sai-Ching Jim Yeung, MD, PhD, FACP; Chief Editor: Romesh Khardori, MD, PhD, FACP  more...
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Answer

Environmental factors associated with susceptibility are largely unproven. Other factors include infection, iodide intake, stress, female sex, steroids, and toxins. Smoking has been implicated in the worsening of Graves ophthalmopathy.

  • Graves disease has been associated with a variety of infectious agents such as Yersinia enterocolitica and Borrelia burgdorferi. Homologies have been shown between proteins of these organisms and thyroid autoantigens. [37, 38]

  • Stress can be a factor for thyroid autoimmunity. Acute stress-induced immunosuppression may be followed by immune system hyperactivity, which could precipitate autoimmune thyroid disease. This may occur during the postpartum period, in which Graves disease may occur 3-9 months after delivery. Estrogen may influence the immune system, particularly the B-cell repertoire. Both T- and B-cell function are diminished during pregnancy, and the rebound from this immunosuppression is thought to contribute to the development of postpartum thyroid syndrome.

  • Interferon beta-1b and interleukin-4, when used therapeutically, may cause Graves disease.

  • Trauma to the thyroid has also been reported to be associated with Graves disease. This may include surgery of the thyroid gland, percutaneous injection of ethanol, and infarction of a thyroid adenoma.


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