How Auto Immune Disease Occurs
Normally the immune system's army of white blood cells helps protect the body from harmful substances, called antigens. Examples of antigens include bacteria, viruses, toxins, cancer cells, and foreign blood or tissues from another person or species. The immune system produces antibodies that destroy these harmful substances.
But in patients with an autoimmune disorder, the immune system can't tell the difference between healthy body tissue and antigens. The result is an immune response that destroys normal body tissues. The response is a hypersensitivity reaction similar to allergies, where the immune system reacts to a substance that it normally would ignore. In allergies, the immune system reacts to an external substance that would normally be harmless. With autoimmune disorders, the immune system reacts to normal body tissues.
Auto Immune Disease Statistics
Autoimmune diseases are currently ranked as the third biggest disease category in the US behind heart disease and cancer.An estimated 3% of the population in the United States is affected by a tissue-specific or systemic autoimmune disorder. In many other parts of the world they rank as the biggest disease category.
Auto Immune Disease Risk
The cause(s) of autoimmune disorders remain largely unknown. Factors which predispose to the development of autoimmunity include genetic factors, age of the individual and environmental factors such as stress and infectious agents.
Auto Immune Disease Gender Bias
Women tend to be affected more often by autoimmune disorders; nearly 79% of autoimmune disease patients in the USA are women. For systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE), scleroderma, or thyroiditis that number rises to approximately 85%. In some disorders, such as Graves’ disease, women develop the disorder 7 times more often than men. However, women develop multiple sclerosis only twice as often as men. Ankylosing spondylitis, an autoimmune rheumatologic disorder, is one of the few autoimmune disorders in which men are affected more often than women.
Even though women's greater susceptibility to autoimmune diseases has been recognized for more than 100 years, only recently has attention focused on this topic. It is suspected that the differences may be because women produce a more vigorous immune response and increased antibody production . However, studies show that autoimmune diseases that develop in men often are more severe. Morre studies need to be done on the issue of gender bias in auto immune diseases.
Auto Immune Disease Causes
What causes the immune system to no longer distinguish between healthy body tissues and antigens is unknown. One theory holds that various microorganisms and drugs may trigger some of these changes, particularly in persons who are genetically prone to autoimmune disorders. An autoimmune disorder may result in:
- The destruction of one or more types of body tissue
- Abnormal growth of an organ
- Changes in organ function
Auto Immune Disease Effects
An autoimmune disorder may affect one or more organ or tissue types. Organs and tissues commonly affected by autoimmune disorders include:
- Blood vessels
- Connective tissues
- Endocrine glands such as the thyroid or pancreas
- Red blood cells
Examples of Auto Immune or Auto Immune Related Diseases
- Acute disseminated encephalomyelitis (ADEM). A form of encephalitis caused by an autoimmune reaction and typically occurring a few days or weeks after a viral infection or a vaccination.
- Addison's disease. A disease often caused by autoimmune destruction of the adrenal cortex.
- Ankylosing spondylitis. A chronic, painful, progressive inflammatory arthritis primarily affecting spine and sacroiliac joints, causing eventual fusion of the spine.
- Antiphospholipid antibody syndrome (APS). A disease that causes blood clots to form in veins and/or arteries.
- Aplastic anemia. A disease caused by an autoimmune attack on the bone marrow.
- Autoimmune hepatitis. A disorder wherein the liver is the target of the body's own immune system.
- Autoimmune Oophoritis. A disorder in which the immune system attacks the female reproductive organs.
- Celiac disease - sprue. A disease characterized by chronic inflammation of the proximal portion of the small intestine caused by exposure to certain dietary gluten proteins.
- Crohn's disease. A form of inflammatory bowel disease characterized by chronic inflammation of the intestinal tract causing abdominal pain and diarrhea. There is also a theory that Crohn's Disease is an infectious disease caused by Mycobacterium avium paratuberculosis.
- Diabetes mellitus type 1. A disorder that is characterized by a deficiency or absence of insulin production (Type I). It is often the consequence of an autoimmune attack on the insulin-producing beta cells in the islets of Langerhans of the pancreas.
- Gestational pemphigoid. A pregnancy-related blistering condition where auto antibodies attack the skin.
- Goodpasture's syndrome. A disease characterized by rapid destruction of the kidneys and hemorrhaging of the lungs through autoimmune reaction against an antigen found in both organs.
- Graves' disease. A disorder of the thyroid caused by anti-thyroid antibodies that stimulate the thyroid into overproduction of thyroid hormone. It is the most common form of hyperthyroidism.
- Guillain-Barré syndrome (GBS). An acquired immune-mediated inflammatory disorder of the peripheral nervous system. Also referred to as: acute idiopathic polyradiculoneuritis, acute idiopathic polyneuritis, acute inflammatory demyelinating polyneuropathy, and Landry's ascending paralysis.
- Hashimoto's disease. A condition characterized by initial inflammation of the thyroid, and, later, dysfunction and goiter. There are several characteristic antibodies (e.g., anti-thyroglobulin). A common form of hypothyroidism,
- Idiopathic thrombocytopenic purpura. An autoimmune disease where the body produces anti-platelet antibodies resulting in a low platelet count.
- Kawasaki's disease. A disorder caused by an autoimmune attack on the arteries around the heart.
- Lupus erythematosus. A chronic (long-lasting) non organ specific autoimmune disease wherein the immune system becomes hyperactive and attacks normal tissue. This attack results in inflammation and brings about symptoms.
- Mixed Connective Tissue Disease. A disorder that has features of other connective tissues diseases — lupus, polymyositis, rheumatoid arthritis, and scleroderma, diagnosed by the presence of anti-body U1-RNP.
- Multiple sclerosis. A disorder of the central nervous system (brain and spinal cord) characterized by decreased nerve function due to myelin loss and secondary axonal damage.
- Myasthenia gravis. A disorder of neuromuscular transmission leading to fluctuating weakness and fatigue. Weakness is caused by circulating antibodies that block (antagonist) acetylcholine receptors at the neuromuscular junction.
- Opsoclonus myoclonus syndrome (OMS). A neurological disorder that appears to the result of an autoimmune attack on the nervous system. Symptoms include ataxia, intention tremor, dysphasia, dysarthria, myoclonus, mutism, hypotonia, opsoclonus, lethargy, irritability or malaise. About half of all OMS cases occur in association with neuroblastoma.
- Optic neuritis. An inflammation of the optic nerve that may cause a complete or partial loss of vision.
- Ord's thyroiditis. Thyroiditis similar to Hashimoto's disease, except that the thyroid is reduced in size.
- Pemphigus. An autoimmune disorder that causes blistering and raw sores on skin and mucous membranes.
- Pernicious anaemia. An autoimmune disorder characterized by anemia due to malabsorption of vitamin B12.
- Primary biliary cirrhosis. An autoimmune disease that affects the biliary epithelial cells (BECs) of the small bile duct in the liver. Although the cause is yet to be determined, most of the patients (>90%) appear to have auto-mitochondrial anti-bodies (AMAs) against pyruvate dehydrogenase complex (PDC), an enzyme that is found in the mitochondria.
- Rheumatoid arthritis. An autoimmune disorder that causes the body's immune system to attack the bone joints.
- Reiter's syndrome. An autoimmune disease affecting various body systems in response to a bacterial infection and the body's confusion over the HLA-B27 marker .
- Sjögren's syndrome. An autoimmune disorder in which immune cells attack and destroy the exocrine glands that produce tears and saliva.
- Takayasu's arteritis. An auto immune disorder that results in the narrowing of the lumen of arteries.
- Temporal arteritis (also known as "giant cell arteritis"). An inflammation of blood vessels, most commonly the large and medium arteries of the head. Untreated, the disorder can lead to significant vision loss.
- Warm autoimmune hemolytic anemia. A auto immune disorder characterized by IgM attack against red blood cells
- Wegener's granulomatosis . A form of vasculitis that affects the lungs, kidneys and other organs.
Diseases suspected or theorized to be linked to autoimmunity are:
- Alopecia universalis
- Behçet's disease
- Chagas' disease
- Chronic fatigue syndrome
- Hidradenitis suppurativa
- Interstitial cystitis
- Lyme disease
- Ulcerative colitis
Auto Immune Disease Symptoms
Symptoms of autoimmune disorders can come and go and for some disease, may be hard to identify. The sudden, severe development of symptoms is called a flare up. Symptoms of an autoimmune disease vary widely and depend on the specific disease. A group of very nonspecific symptoms often accompany autoimmune diseases, and may include:
- Body aches
- General ill-feeling
- Low-grade fever
Exams and Tests to Diagnose Auto Immune Diseases
Because specific signs vary widely depending on the disorder the exams and test will also vary and depend on the specific disease. Tests that may be done to diagnose an autoimmune disorder may include:
- Erythrocyte sedimentation rate (ESR)
- C-reactive protein (CRP)
Auto Immune Disease Treatment
There is no known prevention for most autoimmune disorders. The goals of treatment are to reduce symptoms and control the autoimmune process while maintaining the body's ability to fight disease. Treatments vary widely and depend on the specific disease and your symptoms. For instance:
- If the autoimmune disorder affects the blood, the person may need blood transfusions.
- Measures to help with movement or other functions may be needed for autoimmune disorders that affect the bones, joints, or muscles.
- Some patients may need supplements to replenish a hormone or vitamin that the body is lacking. Examples include thyroid supplements, vitamins, or insulin injections.
Medicines are often prescribed to control or reduce the immune system's response. Such medicines may include corticosteroids and immunosuppressant drugs such as cyclophosphamide or azathioprine.
Auto Immune Disease Outlook (Prognosis)
The success of treatment depends on the specific disease. Many auto immune diseases are chronic conditions that can not be cured at this time, but are treatable.