What is an Autoimmune Disease?
An autoimmune condition is when your immune system misunderstands your body and attacks it.
Normally, the immune system protects against viruses and bacteria. It sends an army of fighter cells to attack foreign invaders when it detects them.
The immune system is able to distinguish between foreign cells from your own cells.
An autoimmune disease is when your immune system mistakenly considers a part of your body as foreign. It releases autoantibodies, which attack healthy cells.
Some autoimmune diseases only target one organ. Type 1 diabetes causes damage to the pancreas. Systemic lupus, also known as SLE (systemic lupus and erythematosus), can affect the entire body.
What is the purpose of the immune system attacking the body?
The exact cause of the immune-system malfunction is unknown by doctors. However, some people are more susceptible to developing an autoimmune disease than others.
A 2014 study found that women are more likely to develop autoimmune diseases than men. This is 6.4% versus 2.7% for men. The disease often begins during a woman’s reproductive years (15 to 44).
Certain autoimmune diseases are more prevalent in certain ethnicities. Lupus, for example, is more common in Hispanic and African-American people than it is in Caucasians.
Multiple sclerosis and Lupus are two examples of autoimmune diseases that run in families. While not all family members will have the same condition, they are more likely to inherit an autoimmune condition.
Researchers suspect that environmental factors such as infections or exposure to chemicals and solvents may also play a role in the rising incidence of autoimmune disease.
BOTTOM LINE – Researchers aren’t sure what causes autoimmune disorders. It could be genetics, diet, infection, or exposure to chemicals.
14 common autoimmune diseases
There are over 80 different types of autoimmune diseases. Here are 14 of most common.
1. Type 1 Diabetes
The hormone insulin is produced by the pancreas, which regulates blood sugar levels. Type 1 diabetes mellitus is caused by the immune system attacking and destroying insulin-producing pancreas cells.
High blood sugar can cause damage to blood vessels and organs such as the kidneys, heart, eyes, nerves, and the kidneys.
2. Rheumatoid arthritis (RA)
The immune system attacks the joints in rheumatoid (RA) disease. This causes inflammation of the joints, causing redness, warmth and soreness.
Unlike osteoarthritis which is more common in older people, RA can be started as early as your 30s.
3. Psoriasis/psoriatic arthritis
Normal growth and shrinkage of skin cells is normal. Skin cells can multiply too fast in psoriasis. These extra cells cause red, inflamed patches and silver-white plaque.
Psoriasis can also cause stiffness, swelling, and pain in the joints. This type of arthritis is known as psoriatic arthritis.
4. Multiple sclerosis
Multiple sclerosis (MS), damages the protective layer that surrounds nerve cells in your central nervous systems. The myelin sheath is damaged and can slow down the transmission speed of messages from your brain to your spinal cord and the rest of your body.
These symptoms include numbness, weakness and balance problems, as well as trouble walking. Multiple forms of MS can develop at different speeds. A 2012 study found that about half of MS patients need assistance walking within 15 years.
5. Systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE)
Although lupus was first diagnosed as a skin condition in 1800s due to the itchy rash that it often causes, the most common form of Lupus is the systemic. It affects many organs including the brain and the heart.
Rashes, joint pain, fatigue and fatigue are some of the most common symptoms.
6. Inflammatory bowel disease
Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), is a term that describes conditions that cause inflammation of the intestinal wall. Each type of IBD affects different parts of the GI tract. Crohn’s can cause inflammation in any part of your GI tract, including the mouth and anus. Ulcerative colitis affects only the lining of large intestine (colon), and rectum.
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7. Addison’s Disease
Addison’s disease is a condition that affects adrenal glands. These glands produce hormones such as cortisol, aldosterone and androgen hormones. Too much cortisol can cause problems with the body’s ability to use and store carbohydrates and sugar (glucose). A lack of aldosterone can lead to excess potassium and sodium loss in the bloodstream. Low blood sugar, fatigue, weakness and weight loss are some of the symptoms.
8. Graves’ Disease
Graves’ disease causes the thyroid gland to produce excessive amounts of hormones. Thyroid hormones regulate the body’s energy use, also known as metabolism.
These hormones can cause anxiety, panic attacks, rapid heart beat, heat intolerance, weight loss, and nervousness.
Exophthalmos, which is a bulging eye, could be a sign of the disease. According to a 1993 study, it can be a sign of Graves’ ophthalmopathy. This condition affects around 30% of Graves disease patients.
9. Sjogren’s syndrome
The glands responsible for lubricating the eyes and mouth are affected by this condition. Dry eyes and dry lips are the most common symptoms of Sjogren’s syndrome. However, it can also affect the skin or joints.
10. Thyroiditis in Hashimoto
Hashimoto’s thyroiditis is a condition in which thyroid hormone production slows down to a deficiency. The symptoms include weight gain, thyroiditis, thyroid dysfunction, fatigue, hair loss and sensitivity to cold.
11. Myasthenia gravis
Myasthenia gravis alters nerve impulses that control muscles. Signals can’t be sent to the muscles when the communication between nerves and muscles is disrupted.
Muscle weakness is the most common symptom. It gets worse when you do too much and improves when you rest. Many times, muscles controlling eye movements, eyelid opening, swallowing and facial movements are involved.
12. Autoimmune vasculitis
Autoimmune vasculitis is when the immune system attacks blood vessel. This inflammation causes a narrowing of the veins and arteries, which allows less blood to flow.
13. Pernicious anemia
The condition results in a deficiency in intrinsic factor, a protein made by stomach lining cells. This is necessary for small intestine vitamin B-12 absorption. Anemia can occur if the body does not have enough of this vitamin.
Older adults are more likely to have pernicious anemia. A 2012 study found that it affects just 0.1 percent of the population, and nearly 2 percent in those over 60.
14. Celiac disease
Gluten is a protein found in wheat and rye. Celiac disease patients can’t eat gluten. The immune system attacks the small intestine when gluten is present and causes inflammation.
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According to a 2015 study, celiac disease is only 1 percent of Americans. Although gluten sensitivity is not an autoimmune condition, it can cause symptoms similar to diarrhea or abdominal pain.