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Thyroid Diseases

Inheritance of Graves' Disease

03/06/2006

Question:

I have in my family what they call Graves' hyperthyroidism. It seems to have skipped a generation. My great grandfather had it and his sister had it. Then none of their children had it, except for my dad and his sister. I also have a cousin with this condition. Does this disease commonly skip a generation?

Answer:

The inheritance of Graves' disease can be very difficult to predict.  It doesn't automatically skip generations, but it doesn't automatically appear in every generation either.  A person probably has to inherit more than one abnormal gene in order to be susceptible to Graves' disease.  This makes it difficult to predict who will get it and who will not in a family.  In addition, heredity only contributes about 79% to your risk of getting Graves' disease - nongenetic environmental and hormonal factors (like smoking and your sex) also contribute.  When the heredity of a disease is this complex, it's appearance in a given person or generation can be very unpredictable.

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Response by:

Thomas A Murphy, MD, FACP, FACE Thomas A Murphy, MD, FACP, FACE
Associate Professor of Medicine
School of Medicine
Case Western Reserve University