Contributed by- Dr. Pooja Chaudhary
Are we all not always making conscious efforts to boost our immune system? All of us know about the vital role that our immune system plays in our survival and that strong immunity means a healthier you. But did you know that your immune system can turn against you and can start attacking your healthy cells? The protector of your body can turn into it’s biggest foe and lead to various autoimmune diseases.
Our immunity is the natural defense system that keeps us healthy and fights diseases and any foreign invaders like germs, bacteria, viruses, various infections etc. Immune system is the guardian that defends the body and boosts our health. Like a well-trained army, our immune system has a complex and organised network of warriors (cells, tissues and organs) that destroys the invaders or any foreign cells. People who fall sick often generally have lower immunity level thus making them more susceptible to various infections.
In most cases, people are not aware about the autoimmune diseases which leads to delay in diagnosis and other complications. It is only obvious to be curious about various autoimmune diseases and their affect on the body. Let us read to get answers to all our queries and satisfy our curiosity.
What are autoimmune diseases?
The immune system guards our body against all kinds of germs (bacteria and viruses) and various infections. The immune system differentiates between the foreign cells and own cells and protects accordingly. Autoimmune disease is a condition in which the immune system is unable to tell the difference between the the foreign invaders and own cells and starts attacking the healthy cells of the body.
In case of a person suffering from any kind of autoimmune disease, the immune system mistakes that part of the body or the entire body in several cases as foreign body and releases proteins called auto-antibodies. These antibodies instead of protecting attacks the healthy cells of the body and making the person sick. Autoimmune disorders can affect many parts of the body. The body’s immune system becomes toxic to its own tissues treating them as foreign invaders. A hyperactive immune system or having certain over-sensitive types of antibodies can inflict havoc on our body.
What are the causes of autoimmune diseases?
The exact causes of the autoimmune diseases are still unknown. Several people are more prone to autoimmune diseases but nothing substantial can be said about the causes. As per several studies, women are considered more susceptible to autoimmune diseases in comparison to men. Some of the underlying causes that can lead to auto-immune disease are:
- Leaky or unhealthy gut
- Exposure to toxic molds and heavy metals like mercury
- Infection like Epstein Barr, Herpes simplex 1 and 2, E.coli
What are the different types of autoimmune diseases?
There are more than 80 types of autoimmune diseases. Some of the most common autoimmune diseases that affects a majority of population are:
- Type 1 diabetes– In case of type 1 diabetes the immune system destroys the insulin producing cells present in the pancreas. These pancreatic cells helps in regulating the blood sugar levels in the body. The high level of blood sugar in the body can adversely affect the kidneys, eyes, nerves and several other parts of the body.
- Sclerosis- Myelin sheath is the protective layering of the nerve cells which enables the transmission of messages between brain and various parts of the body. The immune system damages the protective layering which hampers with the functioning of the brain and spinal cord.
- Lupus- Lupus is a skin infection which is identified with rashes on the skin, joint pains and fatigue. It can affect various organs and is one of the most common autoimmune diseases.
- Rheumatoid arthritis– It is common disease that causes joint pains, swelling, soreness and stiffness in the joints. Rheumatoid arthritis an extremely painful disease with long term affects.
- Inflammatory bowel disease- Inflammation of the digestive system or the inner lining of the intestine is known as inflammatory bowel disorders. Most common inflammatory bowel diseases are ulcerative colitis and crohn’s disease.
- Grave’s disease- The immune system attacks the thyroid glands which results in too much production of the thyroid hormones which leads to imbalance of hormones in the body.
- Hashimoto’s thyroid– The immune system affects the thyroid glands and the production of the thyroid hormones is slow in this case which leads to various disorders.
- Vasculitis- The immune system causes inflammation of the of the blood vessels which leads to slower blood flow. It further leads to blockage of the arteries and veins.
- Psoriasis- It is another skin disorder that causes the skin cells to multiply too quickly. Painful and itchy red patches and scales are some of the common symptoms.
- Psoriatic arthritis- The immune system attacks and affects the larger joints in this case. It causes swelling, soreness, pain in the affected joints.
Other lesser known or rare autoimmune diseases that can also take a toll on one’s health are:
- Addison disease
- Autoimmune hepatitis
- Pernicious anaemia
- Interstitial cystitis
- Systemic lupus erythematosus
- Juvenile arthritis
- Primary biliary cirrhosis
How do you know if you have an autoimmune disease?
Although there are not so specific or clear signs of auto immune diseases, there are some early symptoms which are common in most of the autoimmune diseases and should not be ignored:
- Joint pain, muscle pain or tremors
- Weight loss
- Abdominal pain
- Dry eyes or mouth
- Rashes on skin
- Low grade fever
- Swelling and redness
- Trouble concentrating
- Numbness or tingling in the hands or feet
- Hair loss with white patches on the skin
Note: Individual diseases mostly have their own unique symptoms accompanied with the above mentioned common symptoms.
Diagnosis of autoimmune diseases
Most of the people suffering from autoimmune diseases go through a hard time dealing with the symptoms and reaching the correct diagnosis. The correct diagnosis of an autoimmune disease involves the following steps:
- A thorough review of the patients family and medical history
- Autoimmune disease symptom checker
- Physical examination
- Blood tests
- Auto-antibody test
- Inflammation and organ function test
Autoimmune diseases can be scary but it is really crucial to understand and fight them. Treatment for autoimmune diseases mostly focuses on reducing the activity of immune system. It is extremely important to pay heed to the symptoms and get yourself checked.
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