“Autoimmune” means immunity against the self. When an intruder invades your body such as a cold, virus, or bacteria your immune system protects you. Your immune system’s job is to identify and eliminate the foreign invaders that might cause harm. Sometimes problems with your immune system can cause it to mistake your body’s own healthy cells as invaders and then repeatedly attack them. This is called an autoimmune disease.
Examples of Autoimmune Diseases:
- Rheumatoid arthritis
- Multiple sclerosis (MS)
- Type 1 diabetes
- Guillain-Barre syndrome
- Graves’ disease
- Hashimoto’s thyroiditis
- Myasthenia gravis
According to the National Institutes of Health, “autoimmunity is the underlying cause of more than 100 serious, chronic illnesses. There are roughly 50 million Americans living, and dealing with autoimmune disease, more than 75 percent of the people that are affected are women.” Women have stronger immune systems compared to men. As a result, this increases women’s resistance to many types of infection, but unfortunately this makes them more susceptible to autoimmune diseases, especially after childbirth.
Autoimmunity is known to have a genetic background, so you may be more susceptible to developing an autoimmune disease if you have a family member with one. For example, a mother has lupus, her daughter has Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, her sister has Graves’ disease; and her grandmother has rheumatoid arthritis. Different ethnic groups are more susceptible to certain autoimmune diseases. “In lupus, African-American, Hispanic, Asian and Native American women are two to three times more likely to develop the disease than Caucasian women. And 9 out of 10 people who have lupus are women.’” (National Women’s Health Information Center. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office on Women’s Health.)
The cause of autoimmune disease is unknown. There are a lot of theories about what triggers autoimmune diseases, including. bacteria or virus, drugs, chemical irritants, environmental irritants. You could have a genetic predisposition to develop a disease and under the right circumstance, an outside invader like a virus might trigger it.
The signs and symptoms of autoimmune disease vary depending on the diseases. According to the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases (NIAMS): “The classic sign of an autoimmune disease is inflammation, which can cause redness, heat, pain, and swelling. How an autoimmune disease affects you depends on what part of the body is targeted? If the disease affects the joints, as in rheumatoid arthritis, you might have joint pain, stiffness, and loss of function. If it affects the thyroid, as in Graves’ disease and thyroiditis, it might cause tiredness, weight gain, and muscle aches. If it attacks the skin, as it does in scleroderma/systemic sclerosis, vitiligo, and systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE), it can cause rashes, blisters, and color changes.”
Unfortunately, autoimmune diseases are chronic conditions which means there is no known cure, but there is treatment to help keep the disease at bay. Treatment involves attempts to control the disease and to decrease the symptoms. Symptoms of autoimmune diseases come and go, and when they get worse it is called a “flare up.” Treatments can vary.
Examples of Treatment Options for Autoimmune Disease:
- Pills to replace a substance that the body lacks, such as thyroid hormone, or insulin, due to the autoimmune disease.
- Blood transfusions if blood is affected.
- Physical therapy to help with movement if the joints or muscles are affected.
Many people have to take medicines to reduce the immune system’s abnormal response to help keep the autoimmune disease at bay. These medications are called immunosuppressive medicines. Examples include corticosteroids (such as prednisone) and nonsteroidal drugs such as azathioprine, cyclophosphamide, or mycophenolate. Targeted drugs called Biologics (or known as anti-tumor necrosis factor (Anti-TNF) Inhibitor can be used for some diseases. Many of these medications are self-injectable taken on an alternating, weekly, monthly, and bi-monthly schedule depending on what medication is prescribed.
The information provided is for general interest only and should not be misconstrued as a diagnosis, prognosis or treatment recommendation. This information does not in any way constitute the practice of medicine, or any other health care profession. Readers are directed to consult their health care provider regarding their specific health situation. Marque Medical is not liable for any action taken by a reader based upon this information.