Autoimmune diseases are a category of conditions where an individual’s immune system goes into overdrive and becomes abnormally over-active, attacking and destroying healthy tissues by mistake.
Many known and unknown triggers can cause an individual’s body to start making components referred to as antibodies. Usually, antibodies help the body fight off infections, but in patients with an autoimmune disease, they attack the body’s healthy tissues instead.
Diagnoses of autoimmune diseases are made with the use of physical examination, thorough medical history, tests on the blood, tests on the urine, and tissue biopsies.
Treatment for individuals affected by autoimmune diseases focuses on reducing the activity of the immune system, preventing complications, and management of symptoms that may interfere with an individual’s everyday life.
5 Most Common Autoimmune Diseases
Get familiar with the most common autoimmune diseases now.
1. Rheumatoid Arthritis
Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disorder characterized by the production of certain antibodies in the immune system that inappropriately attack the synovial membrane and synovial fluid in the joints.
The synovium is the group of structures that sit between where two or more bones meet at a mobile joint. The function of the synovium is to keep the area lubricated and cushioned so the bones and cartilage do not become damaged from friction and normal use.
When an individual’s immune system produces specially programmed antibodies that attack these synovial tissues, the joint becomes swollen, inflamed, stiff, and painful. Rheumatoid arthritis will affect an individual’s smaller joints first, like those that attach the toes to the feet and the fingers to the hands.
Rheumatoid arthritis progresses to affect the knees, wrists, ankles, hips, shoulders, and elbows. Imaging tests like x-rays, ultrasound, and MRIs can help diagnose and evaluate the progress of rheumatoid arthritis.
2. Celiac Disease
Celiac disease is a condition where the immune system has an abnormal and severe reaction to gluten, a protein found in many foods. This inappropriate and abnormal immune system reaction takes place in the small intestine.
When this reaction occurs repeatedly, it causes extensive damage to the lining of the small intestine. The specialized lining of the small intestine has thousands of small finger-like projections that absorb nutrients from the food being consumed.
These finger-like projections increase the amount of surface area inside of the small intestine to maximize its absorption abilities. When this lining is damaged due to celiac disease, patients experience symptoms related to malabsorption such as fatigue, diarrhea, bloating, weight loss, and anemia.
Diagnosis of celiac disease is made with the use of genetic testing, serology testing, endoscopy, capsule endoscopy, and intestinal tissue biopsy.
3. Type 1 Diabetes
Type 1 diabetes is a lifelong disease where a patient has a pancreas that produces too little or no insulin. Insulin is a hormone that is made by the pancreas manages blood sugar by providing a way for glucose to enter the cells from the blood.
The most common cause of type 1 diabetes is an abnormal immune system response where antibodies are produced that are inappropriately programmed to destroy islet cells. Islet cells are the cells in the pancreas responsible for the production of insulin.
Because their pancreas does not function, a type 1 diabetes patient has to manually manage their blood sugar using their diet, medications, and specialized monitoring equipment. Insulin injections are required to provide the hormone in place of the pancreas.
An individual who has type 1 diabetes has to be diligent about managing their blood sugar to ensure they do not experience complications, like heart disease, neuropathy, nephropathy, eye damage, foot damage, and others.
4. Graves’ Disease
Graves’ disease is a disorder where the immune system produces antibodies programmed to command certain cells in the thyroid gland to produce too much thyroid hormone.
Symptoms that develop in Graves’ disease patients are related to several different organ systems since the thyroid hormones regulate numerous glands around the body.
They include goiter, frequent bowel movements, palpitations, fatigue, bulging eyes, erectile dysfunction, menstrual cycle changes, weight loss, heat sensitivity, tremor, irritability, and anxiety.
Diagnosis of Graves’ disease is made with the use of a physical examination, blood testing, radioactive iodine uptake test, ultrasound, CT scans, x-rays, and MRIs.
Complications of Graves’ disease include Graves’ dermopathy, which affects the skin, and Graves’ ophthalmopathy, which affects the eyes. Graves’ disease is treated with radioactive iodine therapy, anti-thyroid medications, beta-blockers, corticosteroids, and a thyroidectomy.
5. Inflammatory Bowel Disease
Inflammatory bowel disease is a term used to describe a group of disorders that cause chronic inflammation of the digestive tract and organs. There are a few types of inflammatory bowel disease, including Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis.
Inflammatory bowel disease occurs when a trigger of some sort causes the affected individual’s immune system to become confused and inappropriately produce antibodies programmed to destroy healthy intestinal tissues.
Both forms of inflammatory bowel disease cause fatigue, diarrhea, weight loss, cramping, blood in the stool, reduced appetite, fever, abdominal cramping, and abdominal pain. Such symptoms may vary depending on the extent, location, and severity of the inflammation in the digestive tract.
Diagnosis of inflammatory bowel disease is made with blood and fecal occult blood tests, as well as a colonoscopy, intestinal tissue biopsy, flexible sigmoidoscopy, upper endoscopy, capsule endoscopy, and balloon-assisted enteroscopy.