What Are Autoimmune Diseases?
An autoimmune disease is defined as, “A condition in which your immune system mistakenly attacks your body.” When the immune system starts to malfunction, it can either become hyperactive or too slow and this can further impact overall health.
A slow immune system increases an individual’s susceptibility to various infections whereas a hyperactive immune system causes the body to damage its own tissues, leading to conditions called autoimmune diseases.
While under normal circumstances, the body can recognize its own tissues versus pathogens, with its hampered functioning it can often lose its ability to distinguish between pathogens and healthy parts of the body.
Though the actual reason behind autoimmune diseases isn’t known, it has been found that women stand a higher risk of developing them — 6.4 percent of women and 2.4 percent of men. Ethnicity might also increase the risk of these diseases, for instance, African-Americans and Hispanics might be more susceptible to lupus than Caucasians.
Some conditions like multiple sclerosis might be hereditary, and while it isn’t necessarily consequential for a child to get multiple sclerosis from a parent, it increases the child’s risk to develop an autoimmune disease. Another risk factor is a diet high in fat, sugar and processed foods because these can increase inflammation and hamper the prowess of the immune system.
Types of Autoimmune Diseases
Doctors have identified over 80 types of autoimmune conditions and here is a list of 10 common ones:
The insulin produced by the pancreas helps to keep blood sugar levels under check but when the immune system starts attacking the pancreas, it destroys these specific insulin-producing cells and causes blood sugar levels to shoot up. In such cases, people are forced to take insulin injections to keep their diabetes under control.
Characterized by joint pain, dry mouth and even dry eyes, this condition usually impacts the joints and lubricating glands in the mouth and eyes.
Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA)
Rheumatoid arthritis (RA), unlike osteoarthritis, can affect people as young as in their 30s. It impacts the joints to cause inflammation, soreness and stiffness, and if left unattended, it may lead to joint damage. Possible treatment options include medicines to reduce inflammation and slow down the hyperactivity of the immune system.
Psoriasis or Psoriatic Arthritis
The process of shedding dead skin cells is natural but when impacted by psoriasis, the skin cells start multiplying at a faster pace and the extra cells tend to accumulate as patchy, itchy scales on the skin.
This condition typically causes damage to the protective shield around nerve cells and this can, in turn, hamper the transmission of messages between the brain and the body. It can also lead to numbness, trouble walking and balance problems.
Though lupus may appear as a skin disease, it affects various organs including the kidneys, brain and the heart. The common symptoms associated with lupus include rashes, joint pain and fatigue.
Inflammatory Bowel Diseases (IBD)
Inflammatory bowel diseases or IBD comprise different conditions that can cause severe inflammation to the inner lining of the intestines. Each type of IBD affects different parts of the gastrointestinal (GI) tract. For example, while Crohn’s disease impacts the entire GI tract, ulcerative colitis affects only the areas between the large intestine and the rectum.
The adrenal glands are responsible for producing hormones like cortisol and aldosterone. When impacted by Addison’s disease, the body either produces higher or lower amounts of these hormones, thus impacting its ability to process and store carbohydrates and sugar. Common symptoms include weight loss and low blood sugar.
The thyroid gland plays an important role in regulating the thyroid hormones, metabolism and other functions. Graves’ disease can increase the production of the thyroid hormones and cause weight loss, increased heart rate and overall weakness.
Individuals with vasculitis experience damaged blood vessels where they can thicken, scar, become narrower or weaker. Vasculitis can impact any organ in the body and, hence, its symptoms can appear anywhere in the body, depending on the organ affected.
Though there is no particular cause for the onset of autoimmune diseases, when diagnosed on time these conditions can be treated and the symptoms can be brought under control.
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What Are Autoimmune Disorders? (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.webmd.com/a-to-z-guides/autoimmune-diseases
Murrell, D. (2017, October 18). Autoimmune Diseases: Types, Symptoms, Causes and More. Retrieved from https://www.healthline.com/health/autoimmune-disorders