Autoimmune diseases can affect almost every body part or system. There are more than 80 of these conditions, and some are more common than others. Common examples include hypothyroidism, type 1 diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, and inflammatory bowel disease (IBD).
The immune system is a network of tissues, organs, and cells. Its role is to defend the body against harmful organisms, such as bacteria and viruses, warding off infection and disease. In a person with an autoimmune disease, the immune system mistakenly attacks healthy body cells and tissues.
Researchers do not know the causes of many autoimmune conditions, but genetic factors, past infections, and environmental factors can affect their development. Long-term treatments aim to reduce the strength of immune responses. Antibiotics are not involved because these diseases are not bacterial infections.
Common Types of Autoimmune Diseases
Autoimmune diseases are relatively common. According to some estimates, more than 23.5 million people in the United States have at least one autoimmune condition. They are a leading cause of death and disability in the country.
Psoriasis causes the immune system to disrupt the healthy formation of skin cells. This leads to scaly, dry, itchy patches of skin, along with joint pain. Estimates suggest that more than 8 million people in the U.S. have psoriasis, and it affects 2–3% of the world’s population.
There are many types of psoriasis, each with different symptoms. Some develop more often than others. Common triggers for psoriasis include stress, infections, and environmental factors.
Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, also called Hashimoto’s disease, is an autoimmune condition in which the immune system attacks cells that create thyroid hormones. This leads to an underactive thyroid, known as hypothyroidism. Hashimoto’s thyroiditis affects around 5% of people in the U.S. It is at least 8 times more common in females than males.
Symptoms of Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis include:
- A Goiter, Which Is Swelling At The Front Of The Neck
- Weight Gain
- Joint And Muscle Pain
- Increased Sensitivity To Cold
- A Slowed Heart Rate
- Heavy Or Irregular Menstruation
Graves disease is an autoimmune condition that causes the thyroid gland to produce too much thyroid hormone. This leads to hyperthyroidism.
Graves disease affects about 1 in 200 people. It is more common in females than males.
Symptoms of Graves disease include:
- Nervousness Or Anxiety
- A Rapid, Irregular Heartbeat
- Shaky Hands
- High Blood Pressure
- Sweating And Difficulty Tolerating Hot Conditions
- Weight Loss
- Light, Irregular Menstruation
- A Goiter
Inflammatory Bowel Disease (Ibd)
IBD is a long-term digestive condition. In a person with IBD, an immune system response to environmental triggers leads to inflammation in the stomach and gut.
The condition may affect around 1.3% of adults in the U.S., or around 3 million people.
There are two main types of IBD:
- Crohn’s Disease, which involves chronic inflammation occurring anywhere from the mouth to end of the large intestine
- Ulcerative Colitis, which involves long-term inflammation of the large intestine
Symptoms of IBD include:
- Stomach Pain
- Persistent Diarrhea
- Blood In Stool
- Weight Loss
Celiac Disease is an immune disorder that causes the lining of the small intestine to become inflamed after the person eats foods that contain gluten. It can lead to abdominal pain, an inability to absorb key nutrients, and some other symptoms, such as joint pain and characteristic rashes.
The immune response is genetically determined and is aimed at gliadin, a component of gluten.
Gluten is a protein in wheat, rye, and barley. Eliminating it from the diet helps control the signs and symptoms of celiac disease. As many as 1 in 141 people in the U.S. may have celiac disease, though many of them may be unaware.
When a person with the condition eats gluten, their immune system attacks healthy tissue in the small intestine. Over time this damages the organ, preventing it from absorbing nutrients properly.
Symptoms Of Celiac Disease Include:
- Inflammation And Pain In The Abdomen
- A Burning Sensation In The Chest
- Weight Loss
- A Rash
- Joint Pain
- Vomiting Or Diarrhea
Celiac disease is different from gluten intolerance or sensitivity. Either of these issues can cause symptoms similar to those of celiac disease, but there is no damage to the digestive system.
Systemic Lupus Erythematosus
Systemic Lupus Erythematosus (SLE) refers to a range of conditions marked by inflammation of the skin, joints, and — when severe — internal organs.
Lupus affects around 1.5 million people in the U.S. and 5 million people worldwide. Most people with lupus are female.
Symptoms of SLE include:
- Muscle And Joint Pain
- A Butterfly-Shaped Rash On The Face
- Sun Sensitivity
- A Fever
Rheumatoid Arthritis is one of the most common long-term autoimmune disorders. It causes the immune system to attack healthy tissue in the joints, including those of the hands, wrists, and knees.
About 1.3 million adults in the U.S. have this condition, which is two to three times more common in females than in males.
Symptoms of Rheumatoid Arthritis include:
- Pain, Tenderness, And Swelling Around The Joints
- Joint Stiffness
- Symptoms That Appear On Both Sides Of The Body, Such As On Both Hands Or Knees
- Weight Loss
Type 1 Diabetes
Type 1 Diabetes causes the immune system to destroy cells in the pancreas that create insulin, called beta cells. As a result, the pancreas is less able to make insulin, leading to insulin deficiency.
Not having enough insulin means that sugars cannot be transported around the body properly, leading to high blood sugar levels. About 1 in 300 people in the U.S. have type 1 diabetes by age 18.
Type 1 Diabetes Symptoms include:
- Frequent Urination
- Increased Thirst
- A Loss Of Energy
- Blurred Vision
Diagnosing Autoimmune Conditions
The symptoms of autoimmune conditions tend to be general, overlapping with symptoms of other issues, particularly other autoimmune disorders. This can make it challenging to accurately diagnose an autoimmune condition.
For example, lupus can affect the joints similarly to rheumatoid arthritis, but the symptoms tend to be less severe. IBD causes similar symptoms to celiac disease, but IBD is not typically caused by consuming gluten. Also, the diagnostic process differs, depending on the specific disease.
However, it usually involves blood tests. A doctor can often diagnose an autoimmune disease by analyzing antibodies produced by the immune system.
A test called a complete blood count allows the doctor to check the levels of white and red blood cells in the body. When the immune system is fighting off something, the levels are different from the usual baseline.
Often, simple blood tests can indicate various conditions. For instance, diagnosing Hashimoto’s thyroiditis and Graves’ disease requires a simple test to measure levels of thyroid hormone.
Other tests can indicate unusual inflammation — an issue that is fairly common among all autoimmune diseases. These tests include a C-reactive protein test and an erythrocyte sedimentation rate test.
For some people, getting a diagnosis can be a long process.
- Writing Out A Family Health History
- Recording The Symptoms Over Time
- Seeing A Specialist
- Asking For Second, Third, And Fourth Opinions, If Necessary
Our physicians will perform a comprehensive evaluation of your condition in order to determine which treatment might be best for you. They will explain your options so that you can make a decision you’re most comfortable with.
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