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Autoimmune Diseases - Types, Symptoms, Diagnosis, and Treatment

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Autoimmune diseases are conditions where the body’s immune system attacks its own healthy tissues and cells. Read the article to know more.

Medically reviewed by

Dr. Kaushal Bhavsar

Published At September 22, 2022
Reviewed AtAugust 23, 2023

What Is an Autoimmune Disease?

An autoimmune disease is caused due to the immune system attacking the body’s own healthy cells and tissues. The immune system lacks the ability to distinguish between the body cells and foreign invading materials. Certain studies reveal that autoimmune disease tends to be causedduetoenvironmental factors like infections, and exposure to chemicals or solvents is also involved.Certain diseases, like multiple sclerosis and lupus, run in families.

Autoimmune diseases can affect many types of cells or tissues and any organ in the body.

They are more common among women than men.Some can be easily treated, and some of them can last for a lifetime. Some are more common in certain ethnic groups. For example, lupus affects African-American and Hispanic people more than Caucasians. Often the disease starts during a woman’s childbearing years (ages 15 to 44).

Who Is at Risk for Autoimmune Diseases?

The risk factors include the following-

  • Genetics- Certain diseases run in the families, such as lupus erythematosus and systemic sclerosis.

  • Sex- More commonly seen in females than males. Women of childbearing ages tend to be the most affected.

  • Obesity- Obesity causes low-grade inflammation and can cause harm to the healthy immune system of the body.

  • Smoking and Exposure to Toxic Substances- Exposure to certain chemicals may also lead to autoimmune diseases.

  • Certain Drugs or Medications- Side effects of certain drugs such as antihypertensive drugs and antidepressants.

  • Infections- Certain infections may increase the susceptibility to the disease.

What Are the Common Types of Autoimmune Diseases?

Some of the commonest autoimmune diseases include the following:

  • Type 1 diabetes.

  • Rheumatoid arthritis (RA).

  • Celiac disease.

  • Polymyalgia rheumatica.

  • Psoriasis/psoriatic arthritis.

  • Ankylosing spondylitis.

  • Multiple sclerosis.

  • Alopecia areata.

  • Vasculitis.

  • Systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE).

  • Temporal arteritis.

  • Inflammatory bowel disease.

  • Addison’s disease.

  • Graves’ disease.

  • Guillain-Barre syndrome.

  • Sjögren’s syndrome.

  • Hashimoto’s thyroiditis.

  • Myasthenia gravis.

  • Autoimmune vasculitis.

  • Pernicious anemia.

  • Celiac disease.

What Are the Signs and Symptoms of Autoimmune Diseases?

Autoimmune diseases may present with the following signs and symptoms:

  • Joint pain and swelling.

  • Recurring fever.

  • Skin problems.

  • Fatigue.

  • Chest pain.

  • Swollen glands.

  • Abdominal pain or digestive problems.

  • Depression.

  • Rashes.

  • Dizziness and tiredness.

  • Aching muscles.

  • Hair loss.

Certain symptoms may be specific to some diseases rather than a common presenting feature of all autoimmune diseases. Some examples are as follows:

  • Type 1 diabetes causes extreme thirst, weight loss, and fatigue.

  • Irritable bowel disease (IBD) causes belly pain, bloating, and diarrhea.

How Are Autoimmune Diseases Diagnosed?

It can be hard to diagnose an autoimmune disorder, especially in its earlier stages, and if multiple organs or systems are involved. In addition, the symptoms of one autoimmune disease may be similar to that of several other autoimmune diseases, making it difficult to correctly diagnose specific diseases. Therefore, the planning and management of the condition are based on the symptoms, physical examination, and detailed medical history. The doctor recommends doing the following tests:

  • Erythrocyte Sedimentation Rate (ESR): This test measures the rate at which patients' red blood cells descend and settle in a test tube that contains a blood sample of the patient. A rapid rate of settling is indicative of inflammation, which is an immune response to infection or injury to the body.

  • Complete Blood Count: Based on increased or decreased numbers of red blood cells (RBCs), white blood cells (WBCs), and other components of blood, the underlying medical conditions that are present may be determined; typically, an autoimmune disease presents with a low count of WBC. For proper diagnosis, further testing is also needed.

  • C-Reactive Protein (CRP) Test: CRP is a protein produced in the liver that generally increases with inflammation.

  • Immunofixation (IFE) Blood Test: An immunofixation blood test measures certain proteins in the blood, which help to identify the specific disease. This test is also known as immunofixation electrophoresis or protein electrophoresis. High levels of the proteins may indicate diseases such as Crohn’s disease and rheumatoid arthritis, while low levels of the proteins may indicate other autoimmune conditions.

  • Immunoglobulins Blood Tests: This test measures the amount and the specific types of immunoglobulins in the blood, also known as antibodies. The immunoglobulins measured using the immunoglobulins blood test include IgG, IgM, and IgA. If the levels of immunoglobulins are too high or too low, it may be a sign of certain health problems.

What Treatment Can Be Done for Autoimmune Diseases?

As there is no cure for autoimmune diseases, the symptoms can be reduced or managed through relevant treatment that helps minimize and limit the progression of the disease.

  • Anti-inflammatory Drugs- Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) and disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs (DMARDs) help to reduce pain and inflammation.

  • Corticosteroids- Glucocorticoids can help reduce inflammation and limit symptoms.

  • Immunosuppressant Drugs- Adalimumab, Tacroline, and Cyclosporine are some of the immunosuppressant drugs that could be used to inhibit the activity of the immune system.

  • Deficiency Treatment- Insulin injection in diabetic patients.

  • Surgery- Crohn's disease is a chronic inflammatory bowel disease. Surgery may be a good option to prevent blockages in the bowel in this disease.

  • Physical Therapy- Plays an important role in reducing joint pain, strengthening muscles, and optimizing mental and physical health. Physical therapy also helps in cardiovascular health and strengthens the heart muscles.

  • Diet- A balanced and healthy diet is also essential to ensuring the general good health of patients.

  • Maintaining Weight- Maintaining a healthy weight is important.

  • Stress- Reducing stress would help immensely, given that the affected individuals are already struggling with a chronic condition. Meditation and relaxation techniques might prove useful in this regard.

  • Physical Activity- Exercise and rest.

Conclusion

Some autoimmune diseases can acquire stability at the earliest diagnosis and treatment; some autoimmune diseases may be long-lasting or even get worse at times. It can be quite depressing to deal with a disease for a lifetime, but adequate treatment or management and advances in the available management options have meant that patients can be assured of a better quality of life in most cases.

Frequently Asked Questions

1.

What Is an Autoimmune Disease?

An autoimmune disease is caused due to the immune system attacking the body’s healthy cells and tissues. As a result, the immune system cannot distinguish between the body cells and foreign invading materials. Autoimmune diseases can affect many types of cells or tissues and any organ in the body.

2.

What Is Immunofixation (IFE) Blood Test?

An immunofixation blood test measures specific proteins in the blood, which help to identify the particular disease. This test is also known as immunofixation electrophoresis or protein electrophoresis. Low levels of the proteins may indicate other autoimmune conditions.

3.

Why Is It Necessary to Treat Autoimmune Diseases?

Some autoimmune diseases can acquire stability at the earliest diagnosis and treatment; some autoimmune diseases may be long-lasting or even worsen. It can be pretty depressing to deal with a condition for a lifetime. Still, adequate treatment or management and advances in the available management options have meant that patients can be assured of a better quality of life in most cases.

4.

What Are the Signs and Symptoms of Autoimmune Diseases?

Autoimmune diseases may present with the following signs and symptoms:
- Joint pain and swelling.
- Recurring fever.
- Skin problems.
- Fatigue.
- Chest pain.
- Swollen glands.

5.

Can Autoimmune Diseases Cause Hair Loss?

Autoimmune diseases can affect many types of cells or tissues and any organ in the body. Certain symptoms may be specific to some disorders rather than a common presenting feature of all autoimmune diseases. Rashes, dizziness, tiredness, aching muscles, and hair loss are the signs of autoimmune diseases.

6.

Who Is at Risk for Autoimmune Diseases?

More commonly seen in females than males. Women of childbearing age tend to be the most affected. Obesity causes low-grade inflammation and can cause harm to the healthy immune system of the body. Smoking and exposure to certain chemicals may also lead to autoimmune diseases.

7.

Do Autoimmune Diseases Run in Families?

Certain diseases run in the families, such as lupus erythematosus and systemic sclerosis. Some are more common in certain ethnic groups. For example, lupus affects African-American and Hispanic people more than Caucasians. The disease often starts during a woman’s childbearing age (ages 15 to 44).

8.

What Is the Prognosis of Autoimmune Diseases?

Some autoimmune diseases can acquire stability at the earliest diagnosis and treatment; some autoimmune diseases may be long-lasting or even worsen. It can be pretty depressing to deal with a condition for a lifetime. Still, adequate treatment or management and advances in the available management options have meant that patients can be assured of a better quality of life in most cases.

9.

What Is the Test for All Autoimmune Diseases?

Immunoglobulins blood tests measure the amount and the specific types of immunoglobulins in the blood, also known as antibodies. The immunoglobulins measured using the blood test include IgG, IgM, and IgA. If the levels of immunoglobulins are too high or too low, it may indicate specific health problems.

10.

What Blood Tests Can Detect Autoimmune Disease?

It can be hard to diagnose an autoimmune disorder, especially in its earlier stages, and if multiple organs or systems are involved. The doctor recommends doing the following tests:
- Erythrocyte sedimentation rate (ESR).
- Complete blood count.
- C-reactive protein (CRP) test.
- Immunofixation (IFE) blood test.
- Immunoglobulins blood tests.
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Dr. Kaushal Bhavsar
Dr. Kaushal Bhavsar

Pulmonology (Asthma Doctors)

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