The immune system is a biological defense system consisting of biological structures and processes providing protection against diseases. It protects the body from foreign invaders such as viruses and bacteria. Our immune system has an army of fighter cells that attacks these foreign invaders. However, sometimes the same system starts attacking the body it is protecting. 

When the immune system is in its good shape, it can tell the difference between the cells of the body and the foreign cells. However, in an autoimmune disease, this system starts releasing autoantibodies. These are proteins that attack healthy cells. The system sees these cells as foreign cells. Different autoimmune diseases target different organs. For example, Type 1 diabetes causes damage to the pancreas. Diseases such as systemic lupus erythematosus attack the entire body. 

Why Does The Immune System Attacks The Healthy Cells? 

No exact cause has been established why the immune system misfires. However, some people are more likely to develop these diseases as compared to others. According to a study published on ScienceDirect, the rate of development of the autoimmune disease is 6.4% in women and 2.7% in men. In women, the autoimmune disease starts during the childbearing years that is 15 to 44. Certain ethnic groups are also more likely to be affected by some autoimmune diseases. The risk of developing lupus is high in Hispanic and African-American groups as compared to Caucasians.

Sclerosis, lupus and certain autoimmune diseases run in families. However, not all members of the family will develop the same disease. They do inherit the risk of an autoimmune condition. 

Autoimmune diseases are becoming more and more common. Researchers suspect that exposure to solvents or chemicals, infections, and other environmental factors are causing autoimmune diseases. The western diet that includes high sugar, high fat and highly processed foods is linked to inflammation. This is likely to set off an immune response. 

The bottom line is, researchers, don’t know the exact causes of these diseases. They do suspect that the following factors are involved:

  • Genetics 
  • Infections 
  • Diet 
  • Exposure to chemicals 

Most Common Autoimmune Diseases 

The following table illustrates the 14 most common autoimmune diseases out of 80+.

Disease  Affected Organs 
Type 1 Diabetes 
  • Attacks pancreas and insulin-producing cells. 
  • Increases blood sugar and damages blood vessels, kidneys, heart, nerves, and eyes 
Rheumatoid arthritis Attacks joints and causes soreness, warmth, redness, and stiffness in the joints  
Psoriasis/psoriatic arthritis Causes extra cells to build up and develops swelling, pain, and stiffness in the joints 
Multiple sclerosis
  • Attacks myelin sheath, a coating protecting the nerve cells and slows down the transmission of messages between the spinal cord, brain, and other body parts  
  • Causes balance issues, weakness, numbness, and trouble walking    
Systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) Affects brain, heart, joints, kidney and many other organs
Inflammatory bowel disease Causes inflammation in intestinal wall’s lining  
Addison’s disease
  • Affects the adrenal glands producing aldosterone, cortisol and androgen hormone   
  • Causes excess potassium and sodium loss in the bloodstream 
  • Causes weight loss, fatigue, weakness, and low blood sugar  
Graves’ disease
  • Attacks thyroid glands
  • Causes weight loss, fast heartbeat, nervousness, and heat intolerance
  • Causes exophthalmos (bulging eyes)
Sjögren’s syndrome
  • Attacks the glands lubricating the mouth and eyes 
  • Also affects skin or joints 
Hashimoto’s thyroiditis
  • Attacks thyroid cells and causes thyroid hormone deficiency 
  • Causes swelling on the thyroid, sensitivity to cold, weight gain, hair loss, and fatigue   
Myasthenia gravis
  • Affects nerve impulses and impairs nerves to muscles communication  
Autoimmune vasculitis
  • Attacks blood vessels 
  • Narrows the veins and arteries 
  • Restricts blood flow 
Pernicious anemia
  • Causes protein deficiency and affects small intestine’s ability to absorb vitamin B-12
  • Causes an anemia 
Celiac disease  Makes the immune system attack a part of the gastrointestinal tract that contains gluten 

You can take medical help for autoimmune disease treatment. As there are more than 80 autoimmune diseases, a patient often needs a personalized autoimmune disease treatment plan. 

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