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

Updated: Apr 17, 2020
  • Author: Sai-Ching Jim Yeung, MD, PhD, FACP; Chief Editor: Romesh Khardori, MD, PhD, FACP  more...
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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. [39, 40]

  • 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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