The immune system is designed to protect the body from bacteria, viruses, and other harmful agents. But in some people, the immune system goes haywire and attacks the body's own tissues and organs. Having such a fault in the immune system means having an autoimmune disease.
Autoimmune diseases are very common. According to the American Autoimmune Related Diseases Association, approximately 50 million Americans are living with autoimmune diseases. About 3 in 4 of those affected by autoimmune diseases are women.
Risk factors for developing an autoimmune disease
The exact causes of autoimmune diseases are still unknown. But there are a few factors which are thought to play a role in autoimmunity. These factors include the following:
- genetic predisposition - some autoimmune disorders tend to run in families;
- in women, hormone imbalance;
- having extra weight;
- use of certain medicines;
- environmental factors.
Common autoimmune diseases
The most common autoimmune diseases include the following:
- type 1 diabetes, damages insulin-producing cells of the pancreas, which leads to high blood sugar;
- Graves' disease, causes the thyroid gland to go into overdrive;
- rheumatoid arthritis causes inflammation of the joints;
- psoriasis, in which red, scaly patches appear all over the body;
- lupus, marked by a skin rash (one of the hallmark symptoms is a butterfly-shaped rash on the face) and, often, damage of the internal organs and disorders of the blood;
- multiple sclerosis, characterized by damage to the nerves' protective covering and loss of muscle control;
- celiac disease, in which ingesting gluten triggers inflammation of the small intestine.
Autoimmune diseases cannot be cured, but their symptoms can be reduced with medicines and lifestyle adjustments.
Living with an autoimmune disease
In the comments to our previous articles about autoimmune diseases, our readers shared their experience of living with them:
This article is solely for informational purposes. Do not self-diagnose or self-medicate, and in all cases consult a certified healthcare professional before using any information presented in the article. The editorial board does not guarantee any results and does not bear any responsibility for any harm that may result from using the information provided in the article.