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What is Autoimmune Disease?
The immune system normally protects the body from infections and disease brought about by bacteria, viruses, germs, or abnormal body cells. When an autoimmune disease develops, the immune system mistakenly attacks and destroys its own tissues and organs.
Many parts of the body such as the red blood cells, blood vessels, connective tissues, digestive system, endocrine system, muscles, joints, nerves and skin may be affected. Autoimmune diseases predominantly affect women, frequently during their childbearing years. These diseases often tend to be hereditary, and certain environmental factors may also contribute to a weakened immune system.
Autoimmune disease symptoms vary from individual to individual, with each disease being different. Ranging from mild symptoms to more debilitating conditions, a malfunction of the immune system occurs in all of them.
Systemic autoimmune diseases are characterized by the involvement of many different organs and organ systems.
The most common examples of systemic autoimmune diseases are:
- Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) and Juvenile RA (JRA) – joints; less commonly lung, skin
- Lupus (Systemic Lupus Erythematosus) – skin, joints, kidneys, heart, brain, red blood cells, other
- Scleroderma – skin, intestine, less commonly lung
- Sjogren”s syndrome – salivary glands, tear glands, joints
- Goodpasture”s syndrome – lungs, kidneys
- Wegener”s granulomatosis – blood vessels, sinuses, lungs, kidneys
- Polymyalgia Rheumatica – large muscle groups
- Guillain-Barre syndrome – nervous system
Localized autoimmune diseases are characterized by the involvement of only a single organ, organ system or tissue.
The most common types include:
- Type 1 Diabetes Mellitus (pancreatic islets)
- Hashimoto”s thyroiditis, or Graves” disease (thyroid gland)
- Celiac disease, Crohn”s disease, Ulcerative colitis (GI tract)
- Multiple sclerosis
- Addison”s disease (adrenal)
- Primary biliary cirrhosis, Sclerosing cholangitis, Autoimmune hepatitis (liver)
- Pernicious anemia (stomach)
- Myasthenia gravis
- Temporal Arteritis / Giant Cell Arteritis (arteries of the head and neck)
Diagnosing Autoimmune Disease
Autoimmune diseases are not always easy to diagnose, especially during the earlier stages of the disease. Symptoms are often vague and difficult to describe. The diagnosis is usually based on a physical examination, symptoms of the individual, and a complete medical history.
Laboratory tests may also be performed to determine the diagnosis of certain autoimmune disorders.
What Causes Autoimmune Disease?
The exact cause of what triggers the onset of an autoimmune disease has not yet been conclusively established. These diseases occur when the body attacks its own tissues, thus affecting the functioning of that system of the body.
There are many different underlying factors that may contribute to the development of autoimmune diseases.
Help for Autoimmune Disease
Most autoimmune diseases cannot be cured, although much can be done to relieve symptoms and improve quality of life. The treatment of an autoimmune disease depends on the symptoms associated with a specific disease.
There are various treatment options such as conventional medicine, complementary therapy, or natural remedies that can help to reduce the severity of symptoms.