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Autoimmune Diseases

An autoimmune disease is a condition in which your immune system attacks your body. The immune system usually guards against bacteria and viruses. When it senses these foreign invaders, it sends out an army of fighter cells to attack them.


Usually, the immune system can tell the difference between foreign cells and your own cells.

In an autoimmune disease, the immune system mistakes part of your body, like your joints or skin, as foreign. It releases proteins called autoantibodies that attack healthy cells.


Some autoimmune diseases target only one organ. Type 1 diabetes damages the pancreas. Other diseases, like systemic lupus erythematosus , or lupus, can affect the whole body.


BOTTOM LINE: Researchers don’t know exactly what causes autoimmune diseases. Genetics, diet, infections, and exposure to chemicals might be involved.


According to a 2014 study, women get autoimmune diseases at a rate of about 2 to 1 compared to men — 6.4% of women versus 2.7% of men. The disease often starts during childbearing age (ages 15 to 44).


Some autoimmune diseases are more common in certain ethnic groups. For example, lupus affects more African American and Hispanic people than white people.


Certain autoimmune diseases, such as multiple sclerosis and lupus, run in families. Not every family member will necessarily have the same disease, but they inherit a susceptibility to an autoimmune condition.


Because the incidence of autoimmune diseases is rising, researchers suspect environmental factors like infections and exposure to chemicals or solvents might also be involved.


A “Western diet” is another suspected risk factor for developing an autoimmune disease. Eating high fat, high-sugar, and highly processed foods are thought to be linked to inflammation, which might set off an immune response. But this hasn’t been proven.


10 Common Autoimmune Diseases


1. Type 1 diabetes

The pancreas produces the hormone insulin, which helps regulate blood sugar levels. In type 1 diabetes mellitus, the immune system attacks and destroys insulin-producing cells in the pancreas.

High blood sugar results can damage the blood vessels and organs, including the heart, kidneys, eyes, and nerves.

2. Rheumatoid arthritis

In rheumatoid arthritis , the immune system attacks the joints. This attack causes redness, warmth, soreness, and stiffness in the joints.

Unlike osteoarthritis, which commonly affects people as they get older, rheumatoid arthritis can start as early as your 30s or sooner.

3. Psoriasis/psoriatic arthritis

Skin cells grow and then shed when they’re no longer needed. Psoriasis causes skin cells to multiply too quickly. The extra cells build up and form inflamed, red patches, commonly with silver-white scales of plaque on lighter-toned skin. On darker skin, psoriasis can appear purplish or dark brown with gray scales.

Up to 30% of people with psoriasis also develop swelling, stiffness, and pain in their joints. This form of the disease is called psoriatic arthritis.

4. Multiple sclerosis

Multiple sclerosis damages the myelin sheath, the protective coating surrounding nerve cells in your central nervous system. Damage to the myelin sheath slows the transmission speed of messages between your brain and spinal cord to and from the rest of your body.

This damage can lead to numbness, weakness, balance issues, and trouble walking. The disease comes in several forms that progress at different rates.

5. Systemic lupus erythematosus

Although doctors in the 1800s first described lupus as a skin disease because of the rash it commonly produces, the systemic form, which is most common, actually affects many organs, including the joints, kidneys, brain, and heart.

Joint pain, fatigue, and rashes are among the most common symptoms.

6. Inflammatory bowel disease

Inflammatory bowel disease describes conditions that cause inflammation in the lining of the intestinal wall. Each type of inflammatory bowel disease affects a different part of the gastrointestinal tract.

7. Addison’s disease

Addison’s disease affects the adrenal glands, which produce the hormones cortisol and aldosterone as well as androgen hormones. Too little cortisol can affect how the body uses and stores carbohydrates and sugar . Deficiency of aldosterone will lead to sodium loss and excess potassium in the bloodstream.

Symptoms include weakness, fatigue, weight loss, and low blood sugar.

8. Graves’ disease

Graves’ disease attacks the thyroid gland in the neck, causing it to produce too much of its hormones. Thyroid hormones control the body’s energy usage, known as metabolism.

Having too much of these hormones revs up your body’s activities, causing symptoms like nervousness, a fast heartbeat, heat intolerance, and weight loss.

One potential symptom of this disease is bulging eyes, called exophthalmos.

9. Sjogren's syndrome

This condition attacks the glands that provide lubrication to the eyes and mouth. The hallmark symptoms of Sjogren’s syndrome are dry eyes and dry mouth, but it may also affect the joints or skin.

10. Hashimoto’s thyroiditis

In Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, thyroid hormone production slows to a deficiency. Symptoms include weight gain, sensitivity to cold, fatigue, hair loss, and swelling of the thyroid (goiter).




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