Autoimmune Diseases: Types, Symptoms, Causes & Who Gets Them?
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What is an autoimmune disease?
When you have an autoimmune disease, your body is attacked by your immune system.
Normally, the immune system protects against viruses and germs. It sends out an army of fighter cells to attack these foreign invaders as soon as it detects them.
The immune system can typically distinguish between your own cells and foreign cells.
The immune system misidentifies a portion of your body, such as your joints or skin, as alien when you have an autoimmune disease. Autoantibodies, which are proteins released by the body, assault healthy cells.
Some autoimmune disorders only affect a single organ. The pancreas is harmed by type 1 diabetes. Other illnesses, such as lupus or systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE), can have a total body impact.
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Why does the immune system attack the body?
Doctors are unsure of the precise aetiology of immune system malfunction. However, some people are more likely than others to develop an autoimmune disease.
A 2014 study found that, compared to males, women experience autoimmune illnesses at a rate of around 2 to 1 (6.4 percent of women against 2.7 percent of men). A lot of times, the illness strikes women who are fertile (ages 15 to 44).
Specific ethnic groups are more likely to develop certain autoimmune illnesses. For instance, lupus affects white individuals less than it does African Americans and Hispanics.
Several autoimmune conditions, including lupus and multiple sclerosis, run in families. Although not every family member will necessarily have the same illness, they all have a propensity for autoimmune diseases.
Researchers believe environmental factors like infections and exposure to chemicals or solvents may potentially play a role in the rise in the prevalence of autoimmune illnesses.
Another possible risk factor for developing an autoimmune disease is a “Western diet.” Consuming meals that are rich in fat, sugar, and processing is likely to contribute to inflammation, which may trigger an immunological response. But there is no proof of this.
The precise causation of autoimmune disorders is unknown. There may be a connection between genetics, food, illnesses, and chemical exposure.
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14 common autoimmune diseases
More than 80 autoimmune disorders exist. These 14 are the most typical ones.
1. Type 1 diabetes
The hormone insulin is created by the pancreas and aids in controlling blood sugar levels. Insulin-producing cells in the pancreas are attacked and destroyed in type 1 diabetes mellitus by the immune system.
The heart, kidneys, eyes, nerves, and other organs might suffer damage from high blood sugar levels.
2. Rheumatoid arthritis (RA)
The joints are attacked by the immune system in rheumatoid arthritis (RA). The joints become red, heated, painful, and stiff as a result of this onslaught.
In contrast to osteoarthritis, which often develops as individuals age, RA can begin as early as your 30s or earlier.
3. Psoriasis/psoriatic arthritis
When they are no longer required, skin cells proliferate and eventually shed. Skin cells multiply too quickly in psoriasis. On lighter-toned skin, the excess cells accumulate and cause inflamed, red spots that frequently have silver-white plaque scales. Psoriasis can include purplish or dark brown scales on darker skin.
Up to 30% of those who have psoriasis also experience joint discomfort, stiffness, and edoema. Psoriatic arthritis is the name for this variation of the illness.
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4. Multiple sclerosis
The myelin sheath, the protective covering of nerve cells in your central nervous system, is harmed by multiple sclerosis (MS). The speed at which signals travel from your brain and spinal cord to and from the rest of your body is slowed down by damage to the myelin sheath.
Damage like this might cause numbness, weakness, balance problems, and difficulty walking. There are several illnesses kinds that develop at various rates. Within 15 years of the disease’s onset, nearly 50% of MS patients require assistance walking
5. Systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE)
Although the typical systemic type of lupus, which is the most prevalent, affects numerous organs, including the joints, kidneys, brain, and heart, it was initially thought of by physicians in the 1800s as a skin illness because of the rash it frequently causes.
Joint discomfort, weariness, and rashes are among the most prevalent symptoms.
6. Inflammatory bowel disease
IBD, or inflammatory bowel disease, refers to illnesses that inflame the lining of the intestinal wall. The GI tract is affected differently by each kind of IBD.
Any GI tract organ, including the mouth and the anus, can become inflamed by Crohn’s disease.
Only the rectum and colon’s linings are impacted by ulcerative colitis.
7. Addison’s disease
The adrenal glands, which make androgen hormones as well as the hormones cortisol, aldosterone, and others, are impacted by Addison’s disease. How the body consumes and retains sugar and carbohydrates can be impacted by low cortisol levels (glucose). Aldosterone deficiency will cause sodium loss and too much potassium in the blood.
Weakness, weariness, weight loss, and low blood sugar are among the symptoms.
8. Graves’ disease
The thyroid gland in the neck is harmed by Graves’ disease, which causes it to overproduce hormones. The body’s metabolism—or how it uses energy—is governed by thyroid hormones.
These hormones speed up your body’s functions when you have too much of them, which can result in symptoms like anxiousness, a rapid heartbeat, heat intolerance, and weight loss.
Exophthalmos, or protruding eyes, is one possible indication of this illness. According to a 1993 study, it can be a symptom of Graves’ ophthalmopathy, which affects about 30% of those with Graves’ illness.
9. Sjögren’s syndrome
This illness targets the glands that lubricate the mouth and eyes. Dry eyes and mouth are the typical signs of Sjögren’s syndrome, however, the skin or joints may also be impacted.
10. Hashimoto’s thyroiditis
Thyroid hormone production decreases to a deficit in Hashimoto’s thyroiditis. Weight gain, sensitivity to the cold, weariness, hair loss, and thyroid swelling are among the symptoms (goiter).
11. Myasthenia gravis
Nerve impulses that assist the brain in controlling the muscles are impacted by myasthenia gravis. Signals cannot cause the muscles to contract when the communication between the nerves and muscles is compromised.
Muscle weakness is the most typical symptom, and it becomes worse with exercise and gets better with rest. It frequently involves the muscles that control swallowing, face motions, eyelid opening, and eye movements.
12. Autoimmune vasculitis
When the immune system targets blood vessels, autoimmune vasculitis develops. Less blood can flow through the arteries and veins because of the ensuing inflammation.
13. Pernicious anemia
This disorder results in a lack of protein produced by the cells that line the stomach, a necessary intrinsic component for the small intestine to absorb vitamin B12 from the diet. One will get anemic and their body’s ability to properly synthesize DNA will be affected if they don’t get enough of this vitamin.
Older persons are more likely to have pernicious anemia. A 2012 study found that while it affects 0.1% of persons overall, it affects over 2% of people over 60.
14. Celiac disease
Foods containing gluten, a protein present in wheat, rye, and other grain products, are off limits to those who have celiac disease. When gluten is present in the small intestine, the immune system targets and inflames this area of the digestive system.
According to a reliable source, there are roughly 1% of Americans have celiac disease. Although gluten sensitivity is not an autoimmune illness, it can have symptoms comparable to autoimmune diseases, such as diarrhea and abdominal pain.
Autoimmune disease symptoms
Many autoimmune illnesses have early signs and symptoms, including:
drained and sore muscles
swell and erythema
Low-grade fever, attention issues, tingling and numbness in the hands and feet, and hair loss
Additionally, every disease may have a different set of symptoms. As an illustration, type 1 diabetes results in excessive thirst, weight loss, and exhaustion. IBD results in diarrhea, bloating, and stomach pain.
Symptoms of autoimmune illnesses like psoriasis or RA can fluctuate. A flare-up is a time when symptoms are present. Remission refers to the time frame during which symptoms disappear.
Signs of an autoimmune disease may include weariness, muscle aches, swelling, and redness. Over time, symptoms may appear and disappear.
When to see a doctor
If you experience the signs of an autoimmune disease, consult a doctor. Depending on the sort of sickness you have, you might need to see a specialist.
Rheumatologists treat autoimmune disorders including Sjögren’s syndrome and SLE as well as joint conditions like rheumatoid arthritis.
Celiac and Crohn’s disease are two GI tract illnesses that gastroenterologists treat.
Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, Addison’s disease, and Graves’ disease are just a few of the gland-related disorders that endocrinologists treat.
Psoriasis is one of the skin disorders that dermatologists treat.
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Tests that diagnose autoimmune diseases
Most autoimmune disorders cannot be diagnosed by a single test. To arrive at a diagnosis, a doctor will employ tests, assess your symptoms, and carry out a physical examination.
Antinuclear antibody testing (ANA) is frequently used by doctors when a patient’s symptoms point to an autoimmune condition. A positive test indicates a possibility that you have one of these illnesses, but it cannot identify which one you have or whether you have it for sure.
Various autoimmune illnesses create specific autoantibodies, which are the focus of other tests. Additionally, your doctor may perform non-specific tests to look for the inflammation that these illnesses cause in the body.
Autoimmune disease may be detected by a positive ANA blood test. Your doctor can confirm the diagnosis with other tests, along with your symptoms.
How are autoimmune diseases treated?
Although there is no known cure for autoimmune illnesses, treatments can moderate the hyperactive immune response and reduce inflammation. These conditions are treated with drugs, which include:
Immune-suppressing medications include nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medicines (NSAIDs), such as ibuprofen (Motrin, Advil), and naproxen (Naprosyn).
Additionally, there are treatments for the symptoms of pain, swelling, exhaustion, and skin rashes.
You might feel better if you eat a balanced diet and exercise frequently.
Drugs that reduce inflammation and quiet the hyperactive immune response are the primary treatments for autoimmune illnesses. Treatments can also assist in symptom relief.
There are more than 80 autoimmune disorders. Their symptoms frequently overlap, making a diagnosis difficult.
Women are more likely to have autoimmune illnesses, which frequently run in families.
The diagnosis of these disorders can be assisted by blood tests that check for autoantibodies. Medications are used as treatments to reduce inflammation in the body and to calm the hyperactive immune response.