Autoimmune diseases are a type of immune system disorder where the body’s own defence mechanisms work against it; this is usually because of a hyperactive immune system. For people with autoimmune diseases, their antibodies damage their own tissues, including joints, intestines, and nerve cells. These conditions can often be debilitating – so it’s important you recognise the symptoms of autoimmune diseases.
What causes autoimmune diseases?
There’s no exact known cause for autoimmune disorders, with theories including bacteria or drugs which could confuse the immune system or simple genetic components. Women are more likely to develop these illnesses, and some ethnic groups are more likely to contract lupus. Scientists believe environmental factors might play a part – especially since the incidence rates of these conditions are slowly increasing.
Examples of autoimmune diseases
More than 80 autoimmune disorders exist, with many impacting different parts of the human body. Their main commonality is that they all involve the body’s internal defence system mistaking human tissue as a threat and acting against it. Some of the most common autoimmune diseases include:
• Rheumatoid Arthritis, which involves the creation of antibodies that attack the joints. This results in swelling, inflammation, and near-chronic pain. Without medical treatments that suppress the immune system, this may lead to permanent joint damage.
• Lupus, where the antibodies can also attach to joints, alongside blood cells, kidneys, and more. This can lead to problems with your organs, alongside rashes, and inflammation. Sufferers of lupus take steroids daily, again to suppress the immune system.
• Inflammatory Bowel Disease, which attacks your intestines, causing diarrhoea, abdominal pain, and bleeding; this can manifest as Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis. Medicines can reduce inflamed intestines, and certain dietary changes also help.
• Multiple Sclerosis, where antibodies attack the nerves, reducing their ability to transmit signals. This can lead to pain, blindness, muscle spasms, and more. Treatment may involve steroids and disease-modifying therapies, but success often varies.
• Type 1 Diabetes, which affects the cells in the pancreas which produce insulin, an essential hormone. People with this condition usually feel intense fatigue or thirst before a diagnosis – and require daily insulin to survive.
This is just a small selection of the many autoimmune diseases that exist. These conditions can impact anybody, so it’s paramount you understand how they work. If you suspect you might have an autoimmune disease, seek medical attention as soon as possible, as medical advances can help to limit any symptoms that emerge.