What Is Autoimmune Disease?

What is Autoimmune Disease? Read on to find out about autoimmune diseases.

What is Autoimmune Disease? Let's break down the word autoimmune: auto meaning self and immune referring to our bodies' immune systems. Our immune systems are what fight diseases and help keep us healthy. The normal function of the immune system in our bodies is to protect the body by attacking and destroying foreign microorganisms, such as bacteria and viruses. The immune system does this by producing antibodies and lymphocytes, which are certain types of white blood cells. Under normal conditions, these bacteria and viruses would be recognized as foreign invaders and thus be attacked. Under abnormal conditions of the immune system, our immune system mistakes our own cells and tissues as foreign and attacks them. Somehow, they are no longer recognized as themselves, are altered somehow, so the immune system attacks its own cells and tissues. This is what is known as autoimmune disease. There are many disorders that fall under this term.

Autoimmune disease refers to a wide variety of over 80 different serious chronic, (meaning life long, no cure) illnesses. Autoimmune diseases are the third major category of illness in the United States, behind cancer and heart disease! Yet, sadly and strangely, we know the least about them. These autoimmune diseases affect and involve almost every system and organ in the entire human body. In all of the autoimmune diseases, the problem is basically the same, the body's immune system becomes misdirected and attacks itself, the very thing it was meaning to protect. It should be known that between 75-90% of all autoimmune diseases occur in women and usually within the childbearing years. That is why it is believed that hormones play a major role in the causing or onset of any of these diseases. In addition to body organs, autoimmune disease also affect nerves, muscles, blood, connective tissues, gastrointestinal system and all body systems.

Some examples of autoimmune disease include, but are not limited to:

-Lupus or Systemic Lupus Erythematosis

-Rheumatoid Arthritis

-Multiple Sclerosis

-Insulin dependent Diabetes I

-Myasthenia Gravis

-Fibromyalgia

-Chronic Fatigue Syndrome

-Crohn's Disease

-Hashimoto's Thyroiditis

-Grave's disease

-Addison's disease

-Guillian Barre Syndrome

-Scleroderma

The cause of autoimmune diseases is not fully known or understood, however, it is suspected that hormones, heredity and environmental factors all play a major role in the cause and onset of these types of diseases. Hormones are suspected due to the fact that 75 to 90% occur in women in the childbearing years. Some cases of Lupus clear up with pregnancy and flare after childbirth, others flare after menopause or vice versa. The courses of most of these diseases are individualized and highly unpredictable. That is part of the reason they are so difficult to understand. They seem to have a hereditary factor as well, except the type of autoimmune disease can vary in the same family, with a grandmother having had diabetes and the daughter having Lupus and the granddaughter developing Rhematoid Arthritis.



Diagnosis is based on symptoms presenting, physical examination and lab tests. There is not one specific blood test for the diseases, however in most cases the person will have a positive ANA, antinuclear antibody, for one. It is difficult to diagnose many of these disease, especially in the early stages of disease. Often, it is discouraging for the victim, because she is trying to work, may "look" normal or well, but in fact, is in excruciating pain or extremely fatigued, etc.

Treatment varies with each disease and with each patient. With endocrine type diseases such as diabetes or thyroiditis, hormone replacement therapy is used. For inflammatory processes and pain, often steroids or other anti-inflammatory drugs are used, among others. Every case is individualized. Because the diseases are chronic, meaning there are no cures, they are lifelong, the doctors can only treat the symptoms.

Unfortunately, autoimmune diseases remain the most poorly understood types of illnesses, as we mentioned previously. There is legislation to impede funding and efforts to draw attention to this type of disease to increase public awareness and eduacation. For more information, you can contact the Autoimmune Association, or search on the internet for more information on a specific disease mentioned.

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