Your immune system is the network of cells and tissues throughout your body that work together to defend you from viruses, bacteria, and infection. It tries to identify, kill, and eliminate the invaders that might hurt you.
What happens in autoimmune diseases?
Autoimmune diseases refer to problems with the acquired immune system’s reactions. Immune cells target the body’s own healthy tissues by mistake, signaling the body to attack them.
Autoimmune diseases can affect almost any part of the body, including the:
- Digestive system.
- Blood vessels.
Some examples of autoimmune disease include:
- Alopecia areata.
- Autoimmune hemolytic anemia.
- Autoimmune hepatitis.
- Diabetes (type 1).
- Granulomatosis with polyangiitis.
- Graves’ disease.
- Guillain-Barré syndrome.
- Idiopathic thrombocytopenic purpura.
- Some forms of juvenile idiopathic arthritis.
- Myasthenia gravis.
- Some forms of myocarditis.
- Multiple sclerosis.
- Pernicious anemia.
- Polyarteritis nodosa.
- Primary biliary cirrhosis.
- Rheumatoid arthritis.
- Scleroderma/systemic sclerosis.
- Sjögren’s syndrome.
- Systemic lupus erythematosus.
- Some forms of thyroiditis.
- Some forms of uveitis.
Most autoimmune diseases cause inflammation, which produces redness, heat, pain, and swelling.
Many autoimmune diseases affect more than one part of the body. The symptoms you have will depend on the body part(s) affected, such as:
- Joints, which can cause joint pain, stiffness, and loss of function.
- Thyroid, which might cause you to be tired, gain weight, or have muscle aches.
- Skin, which can cause rashes, blisters, and color changes.
No one is sure what causes autoimmune diseases. In most cases, a combination of factors is probably at work, such as:
- Genes, which may make you more likely to develop the disease.
- Environment, such as a virus that triggers the disease if you have the gene(s).
The treatment depends on the type of autoimmune disease. In most cases, your doctor will prescribe medications such as corticosteroids or immunosuppressive drugs to reduce inflammation.
Researchers continue to explore the genetics and causes of autoimmune disorders. Understanding the causes of these diseases will improve both diagnosis and treatment.