Wikipedia defines Autoimmune diseases as those that “arise from an abnormal immune response of the body against substances and tissues normally present in the body (autoimmunity). The treatment of autoimmune diseases is typically with immunosuppression—medication that decreases the immune response. A large number of autoimmune diseases are recognized.”
It is estimated that Autoimmune disease affects up to 50 million Americans. The total worldwide is unknown, but estimates put it at 200 million. An autoimmune disease develops when your immune system, which defends your body against disease, decides your healthy cells are foreign. As a result, your immune system attacks healthy body cells. Depending on the type, an autoimmune disease can affect one or many different types of body tissue. It can also cause abnormal organ growth and changes in organ function.
There are as many as 80 types of autoimmune diseases. For a detailed list and descriptions visit autoimmunesociety.org.
Many diseases have similar symptoms, which makes them very difficult to diagnose. It is also possible to have more than one at the same time. They usually fluctuate between periods of remission (little/no symptoms) and flare-ups (worsening symptoms). There are currently no cures for autoimmune diseases, so treatment focuses on relieving the symptoms.
Autoimmune diseases often run in families, and most of those affected are women. African Americans, Hispanics, and Native Americans also have an increased risk of developing an autoimmune disease.
The cause of autoimmune disease is unknown. If you have a family member with an autoimmune disease, you may be more susceptible to developing one. There are many theories about what triggers autoimmune diseases, including,bacteria or virus, drugs and chemical irritants.
Because there are so many different types of autoimmune disease, the symptoms vary. However, most of them cause fatigue, fever, and general malaise (feeling ill). Symptoms worsen during flare-ups and lessen during remission.
Autoimmune diseases affect many parts of the body. The most common organs and tissue affected are:
• red blood cells
• blood vessels
• connective tissue
• endocrine glands
Ordinarily, your immune system produces antibodies (proteins that recognize and destroy specific substances) against harmful invaders in your body, such as viruses, bacteria, parasites, and fungi. When you have an autoimmune disease, your body produces antibodies against some of your own tissues. Diagnosing an autoimmune disease involves identifying the antibodies your body is producing.
The following tests are used to diagnose an autoimmune disease:
• antinuclear antibody tests—a type of autoantibody test that looks for antinuclear antibodies, which attack the nuclei of cells in your body
• autoantibody tests—any of several tests that look for specific antibodies to your own tissues
• complete blood count (CBC)—measures the numbers of red and white cells in your blood. When your immune system is actively fighting something, these numbers will vary from the norm
• C-reactive protein (CRP)—elevated CRP is an indication of inflammation throughout your body
• erythrocyte sedimentation rate (ESR)—this test indirectly measures how much inflammation is in your body
Autoimmune diseases are chronic conditions with no cure. Treatment
involves attempts to control the process of the disease and to decrease the symptoms, especially during flare-ups. The following is a list of things you might do to alleviate the symptoms of an autoimmune disease:
• eat a balanced and healthy diet
• exercise regularly
• get plenty of rest
• take vitamin supplements
• take hormone replacement, if necessary
• get blood transfusions, if blood is affected
• take anti-inflammatory medication, if joints are affected
• take pain medication
• take immunosuppressive medication
• get physical therapy
• decrease stress
• limit sun exposure
• avoid any known triggers of flare-ups
• The following alternative therapies have also been helpful: