A strong immune system is the body’s defence against illness and infection. However, a dysfunctional immune system will accidentally damage healthy cells, tissues and organs. These attacks, also known as autoimmune diseases, can harm every organ in the body and impair bodily function, sometimes even posing a severe risk that can be fatal.
Autoimmune diseases occur when the body’s natural immune system reacts against its own cells. Immune cells attack the body’s own healthy tissues, signalling the body to attack.
Nearly every organ present in the body can be impacted by autoimmune illnesses, including the heart, brain, lungs, nerves, muscles, kidneys, skin, eyes and joints.
More than 100 autoimmune disorders are known to science. Patients may endure years of suffering from uncommon autoimmune diseases before receiving a correct diagnosis. Most of these illnesses have no known cures. For some people, symptom relief requires lifelong treatment.
Some well-known autoimmune diseases include,
- Autoimmune haemolytic anaemia
- Autoimmune hepatitis
- Type 1 Diabetes
- Graves’ disease
- Guillain-Barre syndrome
- Myasthenia gravis
- Multiple sclerosis
- Pernicious anaemia
- Rheumatoid arthritis
- Sjögren’s syndrome
- Systemic lupus erythematosus
Causes and risk factors of Autoimmune diseases
Many autoimmune diseases are known to be brought on by drugs. Drug-induced lupus is the most common one. This autoimmune condition arises due to adverse drug reactions.
Procainamide, a medication used to treat abnormal heartbeats, and hydralazine, a blood pressure medication, are the two medications most frequently linked to drug-induced lupus. The following drugs are among those that are thought to cause lupus:
- Oral contraceptives
- Calcium channel inhibitor
Having relatives with autoimmune diseases
The onset of the majority of autoimmune illnesses can be attributed to blood relatives. Identical twins often have a concordance rate of an autoimmune disease between 25% and 50%, which is nearly ten times higher than that of fraternal twins, usually between 2% and 8%.
An article states that autoimmune disease is more prevalent in first-degree relatives of individuals with multiple sclerosis. In addition, disease-specific genetic or environmental factors coexist along with genetic susceptibility factors for autoimmune diseases to occur.
According to a PubMed article, smoke from cigarettes plays a pathogenic function in some autoimmune diseases as it may cause the production of autoantibodies which affects pathogenic processes that are likely to cause immune system imbalance.
Already have an autoimmune disease
An NCBI article states that the likelihood of developing new autoimmune disorders is around 25% in people with autoimmune diseases.
Polyautoimmunity occurs when a person has been diagnosed with more than one autoimmune disease. Multiple Autoimmune Syndrome (MAS) is a grouping of three or more autoimmune illnesses that have been identified in a single individual.
Numerous autoimmune diseases are known to co-occur more frequently in people with at least one autoimmune disease.
Exposure to toxins
Autoimmune illnesses have been associated with a variety of environmental pollutants and toxins. For instance, smoking cigarettes may make people susceptible to Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA).
A PubMed article titled ‘The Prevalence of Autoimmune Disorders in Women: A Narrative Review’ states that the chance of more mutations happening is much higher in females because there are more genes on the X chromosome.
Since women have two X chromosomes whereas men only have one, the probability of women acquiring autoimmune diseases increases.
Generally, obesity, like other forms of malnutrition, affects immune function through changing leucocyte numbers and cell-mediated immune responses.
Autoimmune Diseases (AID) can develop when a person with specific genes is exposed to an environmental trigger, such as an infection.
Symptoms of Autoimmune diseases
The release of inflammatory cytokines (proteins) in the blood puts the body under stress as it tries to deal with the situation. Tiredness and fatigue may result from that.
Joint pain and swelling
When the body’s immune system attacks itself, it causes inflammation. This thickens the linings of the joints, resulting in pain and swelling. Rheumatoid arthritis can bring about swelling in the joints.
Skin issues may result from autoimmune diseases as they cause skin cell inflammation.
Abdominal pain or digestive issues
When the immune system attacks certain portions of the digestive tract, Oedema, scarring and even inflammation can result. It may have an impact on every area, including the anus and mouth, causing digestive issues and abdominal pain.
Recurrent and unexplained fevers are characteristics of autoimmune diseases.
Swollen glands can result from minor infections to severe autoimmune diseases. Swollen lymph nodes can sometimes be a symptom of autoimmune diseases like lupus, rheumatic arthritis and Sjögren syndrome.
Treatments of Autoimmune Disease
Several autoimmune illnesses can cause pain that is manageable with over-the-counter (OTC) medications.
A doctor will probably start the treatment by recommending OTC medications like Aspirin, Ibuprofen, Acetaminophen and Naproxen.
Mild symptoms, including temperature, discomfort, stiffness and inflammation, can be managed with these medicines. Based on the autoimmune disease, one should choose the appropriate OTC medication treatment.
Anti-inflammatory drugs help reduce inflammation and pain.
Medications for depression and anxiety
Antidepressant drugs treat pain or clinical depression. Nearly half of all lupus patients experience depression and anxiety due to the condition itself, medications used to treat it or poor coping mechanisms.
Insulin injections play a vital role in the treatment of type 1 Diabetes which is an autoimmune disease that results in insulin resistance.
Medications taken to treat the diseases or their symptoms cause sleeping issues in patients who require sleeping medications for sound sleep.
Treatment for autoimmune disease with therapeutic plasma exchange (PE) has been in practice for many decades.
Corticosteroids can reduce inflammation helping to treat an acute flare-up of symptoms.
Paracetamol and codeine are primarily used to relieve pain.
These drugs work by inhibiting the immune system’s activity. High doses of immunosuppressants are known to have promising results. Some autoimmune diseases appear to have the potential of being cured, especially when treatment is started early.
Physical therapy promotes mobility in patients with autoimmune diseases.
Treatment for the deficiency
Deficiencies resulting from autoimmune diseases need medical attention and necessary treatment. An example includes insulin injections to treat Diabetes.
Certain autoimmune diseases require surgery as a part of the treatment in severe cases. Example: Bowel obstruction due to Crohn’s disease necessitates surgery.
When to see a doctor?
When a person experiences extreme symptoms which do not subside even after OTC treatment, medical help becomes necessary.
One medical professional cannot treat all autoimmune diseases. The body organ that the specific autoimmune disease affects will determine the doctor to be consulted.
- Rheumatologists treat autoimmune and inflammatory conditions like arthritis, which can trigger the immune system to attack the joints, muscles, bones or internal organs.
- Endocrinologists treat hormone-related illnesses and ailments. The evaluation, diagnosis and treatment of diseases connected to aberrant hormone levels in the body are the areas of training for doctors in this speciality.
- Gastroenterologists treat diseases like hepatitis, irritable bowel syndrome and pancreatitis.
Autoimmune diseases occur as a result of a dysfunctioned immune system. Rheumatoid arthritis, systemic lupus erythematosus, multiple sclerosis and type 1 Diabetes, among others, are some diseases of this category. There is no precise known trigger for these diseases.
Fatigue, skin problems, joint pain, swelling, gastrointestinal symptoms and swollen glands are common symptoms that people with autoimmune diseases experience. Treatment depends on each disease and the organ affected. Although there is no known cure for these diseases, treatment is provided to subside the symptoms with the help of a medical practitioner.
Can you live a normal life with autoimmune diseases?
Over time, the autoimmune disease symptoms may alter. They could enter a state of remission, where a person experience few or no symptoms, or they could flare up and exacerbate the disease.
Some of the symptoms can be treated, despite the fact that they cannot be healed. Most patients with autoimmune disorders can lead regular lives.
What happens when you have an autoimmune disease?
The immune system fails to differentiate between healthy tissue and potentially harmful antigens when a person has an autoimmune disease. As a result, the body triggers an immune reaction that destroys healthy tissues. Autoimmune diseases have no known precise aetiology.
Can you fix an autoimmune disease?
Autoimmune disorders have no definitive treatments. However, symptoms can be managed. Each person has a unique genetic makeup, immune system and environment. As a result, the treatment must be personalised.
How do autoimmune diseases start?
Basically, the autoimmune disease develops when the immune system, the body’s natural defence, attacks healthy tissues. There are various theories among researchers as to why this occurs. The immune system activates and attacks when the body is invaded by a virus or infection, which is considered as a threat.
How many autoimmune diseases can you have at once?
Multiple autoimmune syndromes (MAS) are known to occur in a few patients where a person may have a combination of a minimum of 3 autoimmune diseases. The upper limit remains unknown.