The immune system of a person protects him from any foreign infections and diseases by attacking germs that enter the body, such as bacteria and viruses. The immune system can easily ascertain that the germs are not part of the body of a person, so it ends up destroying them. If you are having an autoimmune disease, the immune system of your body will attack the healthy cells of the tissues and organs by mistake.
Broadly speaking, there are more or about 80 different kinds of autoimmune diseases. They can end up affecting almost any and every part of the human body. For instance, alopecia areata is an autoimmune disease for the skin which generally results in hair loss. The liver is affected by autoimmune hepatitis. The immune system tends to attack the pancreas in your body in the case of type 1 diabetes. The immune system, in rheumatoid arthritis, can end up attacking several parts of the body, this includes the lungs, eyes, and joints.
What Is An Autoimmune Disease?
Between trying to maintain a perfect balance between a healthy career and social life and taking care of oneself, it is common for a woman to feel achy and tired. But can these be the symptoms of an uneasy and stressful life, or could they be tied to a specific underlying condition, for instance, an autoimmune disease?
An autoimmune disease is a situation in which the immune system attacks the body of a person. Usually, the immune system defends against viruses and bacteria. Upon sensing such foreign invaders, it ends up sending out a group of fighter cells to attack them. In the case of an autoimmune disease, the immune system tends to mistake a part of the body of a person, such as skin or joints, as foreign. It then ends up releasing certain proteins known as autoantibodies that fight healthy cells.
Several autoimmune diseases are known to target a single organ of the body, while others might affect the whole body. For instance, Type 1 diabetes can damage the pancreas while lupus or systemic lupus erythematosus can end up affecting the whole body.
Why Does The Immune System Attack The Body?
Doctors are not well-cognized as to what misfires the immune system. Yet one set of people is more likely to suffer from an autoimmune disease than another set of people.
As per a study conducted in 2014, women get an autoimmune disease at a rate of 2:1 when compared to men, that is, 6.4% of women: 2.7% of men. The disease is often known to commence during the age of childbearing (generally between the age of 15 to 44). A few autoimmune diseases are highly common in specific ethnic groups. For example, more Hispanic and African American people are affected by lupus than white people. Lupus and multiple sclerosis are several autoimmune diseases that tend to run in families. Every member of the family doesn't need to have the same disease, but they might inherit a vulnerability to autoimmune diseases.
With the rising incidences of autoimmune diseases, various researchers have suspected environmental factors such as exposure to solvents or chemicals and infections might additionally be involved. Another suspected risk factor is a “western diet” to develop autoimmune diseases. Eating foods that are highly processed, high in sugar, and high in fat is generally thought to be directly linked to inflammation; this might set off a response from the immune system.
To conclude, it can be said that researchers in this day and age are still unaware of the reason or force that tends to cause autoimmune disease. Diet, direct exposure to chemicals, genetics, and infections might be the possible causes behind it.
Several questions that a healthcare provider might ask a person to help diagnose an autoimmune disease
When a person is interviewed by a healthcare provider, he might ask him one or more than one questions. Some of such questions are provided below:
- What are the medications being taken by you?
- What symptoms are you facing?
- If yes, will you please talk about the severity of the symptoms you are facing?
- Have you ever been required to visit an emergency department as a result of the symptoms faced by you?
- How long have you been facing these symptoms?
- Are there any ways in which the quality of your life is being affected by such symptoms?
- Is there anything that tends to trigger such symptoms or worsen them?
- Does there exist any history running in your family when it comes t autoimmune diseases?
- What are the autoimmune diseases that run in your family?
- Are there any alternative medicines that you tried to fix the symptoms? If yes, name them.
Who Are The People At Risk Of Autoimmune Diseases?
Thousands of Americans of different ages are prone to autoimmune diseases. As provided above, women tend to develop different types of autoimmune diseases at a higher rate of frequency when compared to men. If a person gets an autoimmune disease, he is more likely to suffer from another.
An autoimmune disease can develop in any person, but several factors tend to increase such risks. The risk factors differ among several autoimmune diseases, but various factors that are common in nature are:
A few autoimmune conditions tend to run in families. One might inherit the genes that predispose them to a particular condition but only develop it when it is exposed to a few triggers.
Bacterial or viral infections, certain chemicals, and sunlight can end up affecting the development of several autoimmune conditions.
Females tend to stay on a higher rate of frequency when it comes to having autoimmune disorders than a man because of hormonal factors. Such disorders generally develop at the time of childbearing.
Race plays a crucial role in the severity and diagnosis of several autoimmune diseases. For instance, white people are more accustomed to the diagnosis of type 1 diabetes, while Hispanic and African American people are more accustomed to lupus.
Other Autoimmune Conditions
A person who has one autoimmune disorder tends to be at a greater risk to develop another in the future.
What Are The Symptoms Of An Autoimmune Disease?
Autoimmune disease and its symptoms generally depend on the part of the body of a person that has been affected. Multiple kinds of autoimmune diseases tend to cause pain, swelling, heat, and redness, which can be the symptoms and signs of inflammation. But it must be kept in mind that other illnesses might cause a similar set of symptoms too.
The symptoms of an autoimmune disease might come and leave, but there are chances of them being severe at the time of a flare-up. With time, a person might have a remission; this means that his symptoms might disappear or get better for some time.
The initial symptoms of various autoimmune diseases tend to be the same, they can be:
- Redness and swelling
- Trouble concentrating
- Hair loss
- Achy muscles
- Low-grade fever
- Tingling and numbness in the feet and hands
- Skin rashes
An individual disease can have its special symptoms. For instance, type 1 diabetes causes weight loss, fatigue, and extreme thirst. On the contrary, IBD can cause diarrhea, belly pain, and bloating.
When Should A Person Visit A Doctor?
It is highly recommended that you visit a doctor as soon as you witness the symptoms of autoimmune diseases. A person might be required to visit a professional or any specialist, depending on the disease he is suffering from.
They treat joint diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis, SLE, Sjogren’s syndrome, etc.
Skin conditions such as psoriasis are treated by them.
They treat diseases relating to the GO tract such as Crohn’s disease, celiac, etc.
They treat conditions relating to the glands such as Addison’s disease, Grave’s disease, Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, etc.
When Should A Person Consider Visiting The Emergency Department?
You should head over to the emergency department if any of the symptoms of autoimmune disease as mentioned end up getting severe:
- Shortness of breath or trouble breathing. It must be kept in mind that several people can experience the same when they are pregnant and down with an autoimmune disease.
- Pressure to the chest or severe pain in the chest.
- A headache that suddenly begins and feels like the worst headache anyone could have.
- Weakness in the body suddenly, especially when it becomes difficult to move.
- Unstoppable dizziness
- Severe pain which makes it very difficult to stand.
It can be very complicated to live with an autoimmune disease. Diseases such as multiple sclerosis, lupus, and rheumatoid arthritis are serious and complex. Although there fails to exist any cure for such diseases, many of the symptoms coupled with them can be effectively treated, and at times, they might walk into remission. A person should always stay in contact with his healthcare provider concerning any advances to treat and understand autoimmune diseases.
If a person feels he might be having an autoimmune disease, he should consider visiting his healthcare provider as soon as he can for treatment and diagnosis. His symptoms can be controlled easily when coupled with prompt treatment of the condition he has been facing.
Various Types Of Autoimmune Diseases
Immune system disorders can cause abnormal overactivity or low activity of a person’s immune system. In the case of overactivity, the body is damaged and attacked by the tissues present in the body itself, which is termed an autoimmune disease. An immune deficiency disease significantly reduces the ability of the body to fight against invaders, thereby causing a vulnerability to any infection.
As a response to unknown triggers, the immune system might start the production of antibodies instead of fighting the infection, attaching the tissues of the body itself. The treatment of such autoimmune diseases generally tends to focus on the reduction of activities carried on by the immune system.
Several types of such diseases are elucidated hereafter in the article.
Type 1 Diabetes
A hormone called insulin is produced by the pancreas which helps in regulating the sugar levels of the blood. In type 1 diabetes mellitus, the immune system plan to attack and destroy the cells known to produce insulin in the pancreas. High levels of sugar in the blood can end up damaging the organs and blood vessels, such as the nerves, kidneys, heart, eyes, etc.
Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA)
In the case of RA, that is, Rheumatoid arthritis, the immune system generally tends to attack the joints. Such an attack leads to warmth, stiffness, redness, and soreness in the joints. When compared to osteoarthritis which generally affects a person as he gets older, RA can commence as soon as a person reaches his 30a or even before that.
Psoriatic Arthritis Or Psoriasis
The cells on skill grow and start shedding when they are not required any longer. Psoriasis leads to the multiplication of cells on the skin quickly. The extra cells start building up and form red and inflamed patches, generally with lighter-toned skin characterized by silver-white plague scales. On a comparatively darker skin tone, this disease can appear dark brown or purplish along with gray scales. Approximately about 30% of people suffering from this type of autoimmune disease also tend to develop stiffness, pain in the joints, or swelling. Such a form is generally termed psoriatic arthritis.
MS or multiple sclerosis damages the protective coating that surrounds the nerve cells, thereby damaging the myelin sheath of the central nervous system. This damage to the myelin sheath reduces the speed of transmission of messages between the spinal cord and the brain from and to the other parts of the body. This damage can result in weakness, troubled walking, numbness, balance issues, etc. The disease can come in various forms that tend to progress at several rates.
Systemic Lupus Erythematosus (SLE)
Lupus was first described by doctors in the 1800s as a skin disease as a result of the rash it generally produces, and the systemic form, which is highly common. This tends to affect several organs of the human body, such as the kidneys, heart, joints, and brain. Rashes, pain in joints, and fatigue are some of the very common symptoms of this type.
Inflammatory Bowel Disease
IBD or inflammatory bowel disease is a condition that causes inflammation to the internal lining of the walls of the intestine. Every type of IBD tends to affect a separate part of the GI tract. For instance, Ulcerative colitis tends to only affect the lining of the rectum and the colon (large intestine) while Chron’s disease can lead to inflammation of any part, from the anus to the mouth, of the GI tract.
This disease affects the body’s adrenal gland which is responsible for the production of the hormones aldosterone and cortisol along with the androgen hormones. A low amount of cortisol can affect how a body of person stores and uses sugar (glucose) and carbohydrates. A deficiency of aldosterone can lead to excessive potassium in the bloodstream coupled with a loss of sodium. The symptoms associated with this disease are fatigue, low blood sugar, weakness, weight loss, etc.
This autoimmune disease causes the thyroid gland present in the neck to produce a good amount of its hormones. The hormones produced to control the energy usage of the body are called metabolism. The consumption of a high amount of such hormones can rev up the activities of the body, resulting in several symptoms such as fast heartbeats, weight loss, nervousness, heart intolerance, etc. Exophthalmos is another potential symptom of Graves’ disease characterized by bulging eyes.
It is a condition that attacks the glands responsible for providing lubrication to the mouth and the eyes. The primary symptoms of Sjogren’s syndrome are dry mouth and dry eyes. Apart from this, it might also end up affecting the skin or the joints.
In this type of autoimmune disease, the production of the thyroid hormone slows to an acute deficiency. Several symptoms connected to this disease are sensitivity to colds, swelling of the thyroid (also called goiter), loss of hair, weight gain, fatigue, etc.
This disease affects the impulses from the nervous system that assist the brain to control the muscles of the body. With the impairment of communication between the muscles and the nerves, signals fail to direct and command the muscles to contract. One of the common symptoms of myasthenia gravis is weakness of the muscles, which might worsen with an increase in activities and improve only if the person rests. Muscles that are responsible for controlling the movements of the eye, facial movements, swallowing, the opening of the eyelid, etc are generally involved.
Autoimmune vasculitis occurs when the immune system fights against the blood vessels. The inflammation as a result of this tends to narrow down the veins and arteries, thereby permitting less amount of blood to flow from them.
Pernicious anemia stimulates a deficiency of a protein manufactured by the cells of the stomach lining, which proves to be a peculiar factor required for the intestine for the absorption of vitamin B12 from food. With the absence or deficiency of this vitamin, a person can develop anemia, and the ability of the body will get altered hampering a proper synthesis of DNA. The disease is commoner in old people.
A person having celiac disease cannot eat any food item that contains gluten, a protein found in rye, wheat, and several gain products. With the presence of gluten in the small intestine, the immune system attacks the gastrointestinal tract, causing inflammation. As per several studies, the celiac disease tends to affect 1% of the total population in the United States. People have also reported having gluten sensitivity, which is not an autoimmune disease per se but has a similar set of symptoms, such as abdominal pain and diarrhea.
What Is The Treatment For Autoimmune Disease?
The treatment of any disease depends on what the disease is. In almost every case, treatment aims to slow down or suppress the immune system and ease the pain as a result of inflammation, redness, and swelling. A doctor might also provide a person with corticosteroids or any other medicine to help him feel healthy and better. For several diseases, a person might require treatment for his complete life.
An autoimmune disease can not possibly be cured by any treatment, but it can control the highly active immune response along with bringing down or at least significantly reducing inflammation and pain. Drugs that are generally used to treat such conditions are:
- Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as naproxen (Naprosyn), Ibuprofen (Motrin, Advil), etc.
- Immune-suppressing drugs
Various treatments are also present in the market to get relief against symptoms such as skin rashes, pain, fatigue, swelling, etc. Consuming a balanced and healthy diet and coupling it with exercises regularly; might help you get better.
How Is An Autoimmune Disease Diagnosed?
Doctors often tend to face a hard time diagnosing an autoimmune disease. There does not usually exist a particular test to show whether a person has a particular autoimmune disease. The symptoms can also be confusing because several autoimmune diseases tend to have the same symptoms. Some of such symptoms like muscle aches are very common in other types of illnesses. This can take a long duration and several visits to several types of doctors to get diagnosed properly.
To help a doctor find out if a particular autoimmune disease has ended up causing any symptoms, consider the following points:
- A person must get acquainted with the health problems that run in his family history. What problems were suffered by your aunts, cousins, uncles, and grandparents? He should consider noting down what he learned and sharing it with his doctor.
- He should maintain track of all the symptoms he faces, including the time they lasted and what healed them or made them worse. These notes must then be shared by him with his doctor.
- He should visit a specialist dealing with the symptoms that tend to bother him the most. For instance, if he has a rash, he can consider scheduling a meeting with a skin doctor, also called a dermatologist.
In several people, an autoimmune disease can prove to be lenient. Others are required to put in a lot of care and time to effectively manage their condition. However, many people having an autoimmune condition can enjoy their life to the fullest.
More or about 80 autoimmune diseases tend to exist. Often, such symptoms overlap, which makes diagnosing them a difficult task. These diseases run in families and are more common in the case of women. A blood test that looks for autoantibodies can assist a doctor to diagnose such conditions. Treatment might include medications to significantly bring down inflammation and calm the immune response in the body. A plethora of autoimmune diseases and symptoms might overlap leading to difficulty while deciding on an accurate diagnosis.