When the immune system mistakenly attacks the body's own cells and tissues, autoimmune diseases occur. The immune system usually protects the body against harmful invaders, like bacteria, viruses, and parasites. In people with autoimmune diseases, however, the immune system does not distinguish between self and non-self and produces antibodies that attack healthy cells. Multiple organs and systems of the body may become inflamed, damaged, and dysfunctional as a result.
Millions of people worldwide suffer from autoimmune diseases, including rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, type 1 diabetes, multiple sclerosis, psoriasis, celiac disease, and inflammatory bowel disease. Almost anyone can suffer from autoimmune diseases, but certain ethnic groups and women are more likely to suffer from them. Autoimmune diseases differ in their causes, symptoms, diagnosis, treatment, and prevention.
Genetic and environmental factors may contribute to the development of autoimmune diseases, although their exact causes are unknown. The following factors may increase the risk of developing autoimmune diseases:
Having a close relative with an autoimmune disease may increase the chance of inheriting certain genes that predispose to autoimmunity.
Women are more likely than men to develop autoimmune diseases, especially during their reproductive years. Hormonal changes or differences in immune function may cause this.
In some ethnic groups, some autoimmune diseases are more prevalent or severe. For instance, African Americans, Hispanics, and Asians are more likely to have lupus.
There are some infections that can trigger or worsen autoimmune reactions by stimulating or mimicking self-antigens, such as Epstein-Barr virus, cytomegalovirus, or Helicobacter pylori.
Chemicals, toxins, drugs, and pollutants may provoke or aggravate autoimmune responses by damaging or altering self-tissues.
Stress, smoking, alcohol consumption, obesity, and poor diet can negatively affect the immune system and increase the risk of autoimmunity.
Many autoimmune diseases can cause a wide variety of symptoms depending on the type and severity of the condition and the organs and systems involved. However, some common symptoms include:
Fatigue: Feeling tired or weak due to reduced energy production or increased inflammation.
Fever: Having a higher than normal body temperature due to infection or immune activation.
Pain: Experiencing discomfort or soreness in the affected areas due to inflammation or tissue damage.
An immune-mediated dermatitis or vasculitis can cause redness, itching, scaling, or blistering on the skin.
As a result of inflammation or impaired circulation, the tissues accumulate fluid or edema.
Changing weight due to changes in metabolism or appetite.
Inflammation or malabsorption in the digestive tract can cause nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, constipation, or abdominal pain.
Arthritis or synovitis can cause stiffness, swelling, or deformity in the joints.
Myositis or neuropathy can cause muscle weakness, pain, or atrophy.
Neuritis or neuropathy can cause numbness, tingling, or burning sensations in the nerves.
Having dry eyes, redness, or blurry vision due to uveitis or scleritis.
Dryness, sores, or bleeding in the mouth caused by Sjogren's syndrome or vasculitis.
Alopecia areata or vitiligo can cause thinning, loss, or graying of hair.
A diagnosis of autoimmune disease is based on a combination of medical history, physical examination, and laboratory tests. Some of the steps involved in diagnosing autoimmune diseases include:
Medical history: The doctor will ask about your symptoms, family history, and possible exposure to infections or environmental factors that may trigger autoimmunity.
Physical examination: The doctor will check your vital signs, skin, joints, muscles, nerves, eyes, mouth, and other organs for signs of inflammation or damage.
Laboratory tests: The doctor will order blood tests, urine tests, or other tests to measure your levels of antibodies, inflammation markers, organ function indicators, or specific antigens that may indicate an autoimmune disease. Some examples of laboratory tests are antinuclear antibody (ANA) test, rheumatoid factor (RF) test, erythrocyte sedimentation rate (ESR) test, C-reactive protein (CRP) test, thyroid function test, or celiac disease test.
Imaging tests: The doctor may order X-rays, ultrasound, computed tomography (CT) scan, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan, or other tests to visualize your organs and tissues for signs of inflammation or damage. Some examples of imaging tests are chest X-ray, abdominal ultrasound, brain MRI scan, or joint X-ray.
Biopsy: The doctor may take a small sample of your tissue and examine it under a microscope for signs of inflammation or damage. Some examples of biopsy are skin biopsy, kidney biopsy, liver biopsy, or muscle biopsy.
While there is no cure for autoimmune diseases, a variety of treatments can help manage their symptoms and complications, and improve their quality of life. A person's treatment options may vary based on the severity and type of the autoimmune disease, as well as their preferences and goals.
Alternative or complementary therapies
A qualified healthcare provider should monitor and adjust the treatment of autoimmune diseases according to each person's preferences and needs.
A number of steps can be taken to reduce the risk of developing autoimmune diseases or to minimize their impact on health and quality of life. These steps include:
Getting regular checkups and tests to detect any signs or symptoms of autoimmune diseases and to start treatment as soon as possible.
Informing your healthcare provider about your family history of autoimmune diseases is important.
You can boost your immune system and prevent infections and inflammation by adopting healthy lifestyle habits. As part of this, you should eat a balanced diet, exercise regularly, quit smoking, limit your alcohol intake, manage stress, get enough sleep, and practice good hygiene.
Preventing exposure to potential triggers or irritants that may induce or aggravate autoimmune reactions. These may include chemicals, toxins, drugs, pollutants, allergens, or infections.
Taking your medications as prescribed and following your healthcare provider's instructions. Reporting any side effects or adverse reactions.
Learn more about your autoimmune disease and treatment options, and seek support from family, friends, your healthcare team, or support groups.
During the development of an autoimmune disease, the body's immune system mistakenly attacks its own cells and tissues. It is not completely understood why autoimmune diseases occur, but they involve a combination of genetics and environmental factors. They can affect various organs and systems of the body and cause a wide range of symptoms and complications. Symptoms and complications of autoimmune diseases are determined by a combination of medical history, physical examination, and laboratory tests. It is intended to manage the symptoms and complications of autoimmune diseases and to improve quality of life in patients. A variety of treatment options are available, including medications, surgery, physical therapy, occupational therapy, speech therapy, psychotherapy, or alternative therapies. There is no cure for autoimmune diseases, but some steps can be taken to reduce the risk of developing them or minimize their impact on health and quality of life.