Autoimmune diseases develop when the immune system decides your healthy cells are foreign. Your immune system then attacks your healthy cells.
There are as many as 80 different types of autoimmune diseases and they can affect one or many different types of body tissues and may also cause abnormal organ growth and changes in organ function. The symptoms of many autoimmune diseases are similar, making them difficult to diagnose. It is possible to have more than one at a time.
Autoimmune diseases often run in the family and about 75% of those affected are women.
Currently, treatment for autoimmune diseases focuses on relieving symptoms because there is no curative therapy.
No one is exactly sure what causes autoimmune diseases, but there are many theories about what triggers them. These triggers include –
- Bacteria or virus
- Chemical irritants
- Environmental irritants
- Genetics – you are more susceptible to an autoimmune disease if you have a family member with one.
There are many symptoms that could indicate that you have an autoimmune disease. Here are the most common symptoms of autoimmune diseases include –
- Muscle ache
- General malaise (feeling ill)
- Inflammation causes redness, heat, pain, and swelling
Tissues and organs that are commonly affected by autoimmune diseases include –
- Red blood cells
- Blood vessels
- Connective tissue
- Endocrine glands
In order to diagnose an autoimmune disease, the doctor needs to run one of the various tests that are used to diagnose autoimmune diseases or a combination of the tests.
The various tests include –
- Autoantibody tests: Any of several tests that look for specific antibodies to your own tissues
- Antinuclear antibody tests: A type of autoantibody test that looks for antinuclear antibodies, which attack the nuclei of cells in your body
- Complete blood count: Measures the numbers of red and white cells in your blood; when your immune system is actively fighting something, these numbers will vary from the normal.
- C-reactive protein (CRP): Elevated CRP is an indication of inflammation throughout your body.
- Erythrocyte sedimentation rate: This test indirectly measures how much inflammation is in your body.
Autoimmune diseases are chronic conditions with no cure. The treatment involves attempts to control the process of the disease and to decrease the symptoms, especially during flare-ups. Below is a list of things you can do to alleviate symptoms –
- Eat a balanced and healthy diet
- Exercise regularly
- Get plenty of rest
- Take vitamin supplements
- Decrease stress
- Limit sun exposure
- Avoid any known triggers of flare-ups
If the symptoms persist after you have tried to alleviate them, make an appointment to see your doctor. The doctor can then diagnose your autoimmune disease and prescribe the best course of treatment. Treatment could include –
- Hormone replacement therapy, if necessary
- Blood transfusions, if blood is affected
- Anti-inflammatory medication, if joints are affected
- Pain medication
- Immunosuppressive medication
- Physical therapy
Common Autoimmune diseases –
- Rheumatoid Arthritis – inflammation of joints and surrounding tissues
- Celiac Sprue disease – a reaction to gluten (found in wheat, rye, and barley) that causes damage to the lining of the small intestine
- Inflammatory Bowel Diseases – a group of inflammatory diseases of the colon and small intestine
- Vitiligo – white patches on the skin caused by loss of pigment
- Type 1 Diabetes: the destruction of insulin-producing cells in the pancreas
- Grave’s Disease
- Multiple Sclerosis
- Alopecia Areata