Autoimmune diseases cumulatively affect 5-10% of the industrial world population and are a significant cause of morbidity and mortality. In recent decades rates are rising worldwide, and autoimmunity can no longer be associated solely with the more developed "Western" countries. Geoepidemiology of autoimmune diseases portrays the burden of these illnesses across various regions and ethnic populations. Furthermore, Geoepidemiology may yield important clues to the genetic and triggering environmental mechanisms of autoimmunity. In this review we compiled and discuss in depth abundant geoepidemiological data pertaining to four major autoimmune conditions, namely type-1 diabetes mellitus, multiple sclerosis, autoimmune thyroid disease, and inflammatory bowel disease. The following key results manifested in this review: 1) Ethno-geographic gradients in autoimmune disease risk are attributable to a complex interplay of genetic and environmental pressures. 2) Industrial regions, particularly Northern Europe and North America, still exhibit the highest rates for most autoimmune diseases. 3) Methods particularly useful in demonstrating the significant influence of genetic and environmental factors include comparative ethnic differences studies, migration studies, and recognition of 'hotspots'. 4) Key environmental determinants of geographical differences include diminished ultraviolet radiation exposure, Western or affluence-related lifestyle, infection exposure, environmental pollutants, nutritional factors and disease-specific precipitants (e.g., iodine exposure). © 2009 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.
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