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  • Writer's pictureDr. Chris Phillips

Can I Develop an Autoimmune Disease Due To My Genetic Makeup?

Updated: Jul 6, 2022

Let’s talk about genetics and autoimmune diseases.

Are the two connected?

Does your genetic makeup increase your chances of developing an autoimmune disease?

The simple answer is … yes, your genes can impact your odds.

The complex answer is… a person’s genetic susceptibility is one of several potential components that can contribute to the development of an autoimmune disease.

Let’s explore what the research indicates about this topic.

What do the terms genetic disposition or hereditary predisposition mean?

The National Cancer Institute states: “An increased chance or likelihood of developing a particular disease based on the presence of one or more genetic variants and/or a family history suggestive of an increased risk of the disease. Having a genetic predisposition does not mean an individual will develop the disease. Lifestyle and environmental factors can also affect an individual's risk of disease.”

Is there one particular gene that increases your chances of having an autoimmune disease?

According to Johns Hopkins University: “Decades of effort have been devoted to study the genetics of many autoimmune diseases, with the main goal of identifying the autoimmune gene or genes. Results have shown that there isn’t a single autoimmune gene. Autoimmune diseases, for the vast majority of cases, do not fit any simple pattern of inheritance. On the contrary, they are thus considered polygenic (multifactorial) diseases.”

What is the correlation between your genetics and autoimmune disease development?

A study by the National Center for Biotechnology Information reads: “The current crop of genetic associations are only the start of a complete catalog of genetic factors for autoimmunity, and it remains unclear to what extent common variation versus multiple rare variants contribute to disease susceptibility …

Some genetic variants clearly predispose to multiple autoimmune diseases, thus providing a gratifying confirmation that many of these diseases share common pathways of pathogenesis, despite their highly heterogeneous clinical manifestations. At the same time, the lack of such overlap for some diseases provides evidence that distinct mechanisms also exist.”

In addition to genetic possibilities, what environmental factors contribute to disease initiation?

Another study published by the National Center for Biotechnology Information concludes: “Although predisposing genetic risk factors have been identified for various autoimmune diseases, it is understood that they account only for a fraction of the overall disease. Hence, the remaining risk component of autoimmune diseases such as MS must be related to exogenous factors. Research efforts of the past decades confirm this finding, and it is now well accepted that the etiology of many autoimmune diseases involves environmental factors that act on top of genetic susceptibility profiles …

The so-called hygiene hypothesis aims to explain the increase in autoimmunity in industrialized countries by linking the decrease of infection rates and the increase in autoimmune diseases to a general improvement of hygiene standards. Besides infection, there are many more environmental factors that have been proposed to promote autoimmune diseases, like MS, including climate, stress, occupation, cigarette smoking, and diet. Of note, the consumption of ‘Westernized food’, including high salt, high fat, high protein, and high sugar intake, has already been associated with increasing prevalence in various diseases.”

Due to my family history, am I bound to develop an autoimmune disease?

The National Library of Medicine website reads: “Your immune system protects you from disease and infection by attacking germs that get into your body, such as viruses and bacteria. Your immune system can tell that the germs aren't part of you, so it destroys them. If you have an autoimmune disease, your immune system attacks the healthy cells of your organs and tissues by mistake …

Autoimmune diseases do tend to run in families, which means that certain genes may make some people more likely to develop a problem. Viruses, certain chemicals, and other things in the environment may trigger an autoimmune disease if you already have the genes for it.”

If I suspect I have an autoimmune disease, what should I do?

Here at Paducah Rheumatology, we have a highly skilled team ready to help you with all your autoimmune disease questions, concerns, and needs.

Rheumatology is our passion, and we want to see each one of our patients live a long and healthy life.

We will take the time to discuss your family history and any autoimmune disease symptoms you are experiencing, in order to gather a full and complete picture. Once we conduct a thorough examination, we will create a personalized treatment plan based upon your specific diagnosis.

We want you to leave every visit with a feeling of confidence - confidence that the proposed plan, designed only for you, can indeed enhance your quality of life. We strive to ensure you feel listened to and heard. Our goal is your improved health.

No matter if you have a long list of family history red flags or not, let us support you along your autoimmune disease journey.

We are happily accepting new patients and would love to see you with a physician’s referral. Give us a call at 270-408-6100 today.

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