The immune system is vital. It protects the body from diseases by fighting off pathogens. When a person faces problems with their immune system, it can overproduce antibodies and send the body into overdrive. The system mistakes healthy tissues for invaders and begins attacking healthy tissues. The causes and triggers of autoimmune diseases are largely unknown, though millions of Americans live with them every day.
Graves disease is a common autoimmune disease that affects the thyroid gland. The condition occurs when the immune system produces antibodies that overstimulate the gland, prompting it to release excessive amounts of thyroid hormones into the blood, which causes hyperthyroidism. The symptoms of Graves’ disease include tremors, sweating, rapid heart rate, and weight loss. Another common sign of Graves’ disease is protruding eyes. Medications can treat Graves’ disease, and some people have their thyroid gland removed.
In addition to affecting the joints — its most well-known symptom — rheumatoid arthritis can also harm the skin, eyes, and heart. This common autoimmune disease causes significant inflammation, swelling, and pain when antibodies attach to the linings of the joints and destroy them. If left untreated, rheumatoid arthritis can lead to permanent joint damage. Anti-inflammatory prescriptions can help. Depending on the severity, some people benefit from steroid injections to slow down the degeneration of the joints. Surgery may also be an option in some cases of severe rheumatoid arthritis, although more conservative therapies usually suffice.
According to The Lupus Foundation of America, over 1.5 million Americans are living with lupus. This autoimmune disease can be difficult to diagnose because it affects a wide range of organs and parts of the body. Autoimmune antibodies attach to tissues in the kidneys, lungs, nerves, joints, or blood cells. Often, the symptoms of lupus are mistaken for signs of other autoimmune diseases such as Graves disease or rheumatoid arthritis. Signs of lupus range from a rash on the nose or cheeks to swelling of the limbs, hair loss, and anemia. People with lupus generally need to take medication regularly throughout their lives to suppress their overactive immune systems.
Crohn’s disease affects the digestive system and causes symptoms such as diarrhea, intense abdominal cramping, and severe weight loss. The Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation of America suggests that around 1.6 million Americans have this disease. Although there is no clear answer as to why some people develop this condition, a controlled diet, medication, and even surgery can help control flare-ups and symptoms. Doctors and nutritionists can help people with the condition find treatment plans that decrease intestinal inflammation.
Multiple sclerosis or MS is a debilitating autoimmune disease that affects the central nervous system, including the optic nerves, spinal cord, and brain. Diagnosis of MS can be difficult. Common symptoms range from muscle spasms and poor coordination to blindness and bladder problems. Some people also develop mental changes due to the disease’s effect on the brain. There is no cure for multiple sclerosis, but rehabilitation and medication can keep the disease in long-term remission.
Type 1 Diabetes
Type 1 diabetes occurs when immune system antibodies attack the insulin-producing cells of the pancreas. Insulin is a hormone that allows the body to use glucose, a sugar the body uses for fuel. Without insulin, glucose cannot get into cells and stays in the bloodstream. One symptom related to the lack of glucose inside cells is a lack of energy. Type 1 diabetes usually affects children and young adults, and more than 1.25 million Americans have this autoimmune disease. Although there is no quick fix, people with type 1 diabetes can inject themselves daily with insulin. Without treatment with insulin, type 1 diabetes can be fatal. Keeping blood sugar under control with insulin can help prevent damage to organs and tissues.
This common autoimmune disease occurs when overactive T-cells collect in the skin and create scaly patches because the immune system is stimulating skin cells to reproduce faster than they should. Plaque psoriasis is the most common form; it causes red, raised patches on the knees, elbows, lower back, and scalp. Although it may seem like a small rash, people with psoriasis face a greater risk of contracting other chronic conditions such as heart disease, psoriatic arthritis, and some kinds of cancer. Oral and topical medications can treat this skin condition.
Eating a gluten-free diet might be a trendy fad, but people with Celiac disease have to avoid this protein found predominantly in wheat,rye, barley, and triticale. When people with Celiac disease ingest gluten, their bodies attack the small intestine. Like other autoimmune diseases, the condition can be hard to diagnose. According to the Celiac Disease Foundation, an estimated 2.5 million Americans do not even know they have the autoimmune disease. Symptoms include anemia, abdominal pain, and other digestive issues. If untreated, people with Celiac disease have a higher chance of developing multiple sclerosis, type 1 diabetes, infertility, and neurological problems.
Another autoimmune disease that affects the skin is vitiligo. The chronic illness destroys the cells that produce skin pigment, and as such, people with the condition develop white patches of skin devoid of pigmentation. Due to the nature of the disease, it is generally most visible in people with naturally darker skin tones, though it can affect people of every ethnicity. Although there is no cure, the awareness of vitiligo is growing. According to Vitiligo Support International, more than 50 million people are affected by this autoimmune disease worldwide.
Hair breakage, thinning hair, and bald spots are symptoms of alopecia areata, an autoimmune disease that prompts the body to attack the hair follicles. Although most obvious on the head, alopecia areata can affect hair all over the body. Often, hair loss can be treated using topical applications that promote hair growth. but usually do not prevent the formation of new bald spots. They also aren’t effective for everyone. Depending on the severity of the disease, corticosteroid injections are available as well.