Our immune system protects us from foreign bodies. It puts up a fight against infectious microbes and toxins. It comprises the thymus, bone marrow, and lymph nodes. Each of these organ systems fights tooth and nail to protect our physical bodies and upkeep healthy cells.
Any disease where the body’s own immune starts attacking a healthy part of its body is called an Autoimmune disease.
Autoimmune diseases are among the most prevalent diseases in the US. They affect more than 23.5 million Americans. A study showed that the incidences of autoimmune have seen a significant spike in the last 30 years. More than 80 different autoimmune diseases are known. Each of these disorders has different symptoms and effects. Treatment for these diseases focuses on reducing pain and ameliorating the symptoms of the condition.
Researchers are not yet sure why these immune systems misfire. But there has been an emerging pattern with autoimmune diseases over the years. These diseases are usually a result of many factors acting simultaneously. Some of the factors that have been identified so far include:
• Bacterial or viral infections: Certain strains of microbial pathogens trigger and promote autoimmune diseases. Some people are more prone to being affected by these pathogens than others. Either way, it is seen that these bacteria and viruses clearly play a significant role in compromising the immune system in the body.
• Effects of drugs: Both prescription and recreational drugs have a strong impact on the human body. When some of these are ingested in large quantities for prolonged periods of time, there is a risk of developing autoimmune diseases.
• Environmental pollutants and toxins: Large-scale industrialization and globalization have had a catastrophic impact on the planet. This has led to drastic changes in the quality of the air, water, and food. This is referred to as the “Hygiene Hypothesis”. This mentions how our bodies are hyper-reacting to toxins and chemicals which have become a part of our present environments.
• Genetic predisposition: Certain ethnic groups are found to be more susceptible to some of the autoimmune diseases. Like for example, African-American and Hispanic populations are more prone to Lupus than Caucasians.
• Diet and lifestyle: The “Western diet” is said to be one of the factors leading to autoimmune diseases. The “Western diet” refers to the high-fat, high-cholesterol, high-sugar, high-salt intake diet. This coupled with frequent consumption of “fast food” makes it all the more worse. It is seen that this diet promotes obesity, metabolic syndrome, and cardiovascular disease. These, in turn, promote autoimmune disease.
While these are some factors that have been identified, there could be others which yet remain unknown.
Here are 5 of the most common autoimmune diseases.
Rheumatoid Arthritis is a chronic inflammatory autoimmune disease. Here, antibodies attach themselves to the lining of the joints. And cells from the immune system start attacking the joints thinking they are foreign particles. This leads to severe swelling and pains at the joints.
Symptoms are usually described as tender, warm joints that go stiff in the mornings or after inactivity. Some of the other symptoms also include fatigue, fever, and weight loss.
The disease is known to take root in smaller joints such as those of the fingers and toes. As it progresses it spreads to the wrists, ankles, elbows, knees, hips, and shoulders.
Besides joint pain, there this form of arthritis also affects other organs such as the skin, eyes, salivary glands and bone marrow. This disease is also characterized by alternate periods extreme pains and times when the swelling and pain seem to fade or disappear. These are usually referred to as “flares”. It would be good to visit your doctor if you find any kind of persistent discomfort and swelling in your joints.
Make an appointment with your doctor if you have persistent discomfort and swelling in your joints.
Inflammatory bowel disease
Inflammatory Bowel Disease is also known as IBD. This term is used to describe a range of disorders that involve chronic inflammation of the digestive tract. Here the lining of the intestine is attacked by the body’s own immune system.
There are two types of IBD
• Ulcerative colitis: This is characterised by ulcers in the colon, the innermost lining of the large intestine and the rectum.
• Crohn’s disease: In this case, inflammation is present throughout the lining of the digestive tract. It often spreads deep into the affected tissue.
The symptoms of both these forms of IBD are quite similar. Usually, the person suffers from abdominal pains, severe diarrhea, blood in the stool, fatigue and weight loss. IBD can get extremely serious if allowed to progress. Sometimes leading to life-threatening complications.
The symptoms with IBD are not always too easy to read since they are not always present continuously. There are intermittent phases when the symptoms peak and lull down.
Multiple sclerosis, or MS, happens when the brain and the spinal cord are attacked by the body’s own immune system. The immune system particularly targets the myelin sheath. Myelin is a fatty substance that insulates & protects nerve fibres. With the loss of this layer, the communication channels between the brain and the organ systems are under threat. Over time, these nerves deteriorate and are permanently damaged.
Symptoms of MS vary considerably from person to person. All symptoms are a result of a miscommunication between the brain the limbs or organ systems. Symptoms include muscle weakness, poor coordination, loss of vision, spasms, tremors, numbness in the extremities and slurred speech. But then again, not all of these symptoms show up at once. Only one or a few of them show up with long periods of remission in between.
At later stages, when the symptoms worsen, there are problems with mobility and gait. The rate at which it spreads is not fixed and greatly varies with the person.
Type 1 diabetes
Type 1 Diabetes is quite different from Type 2 Diabetes. Both these forms are closely linked to the hormone insulin. Insulin is a hormone that regulates the metabolism of carbohydrates, proteins, and fats. It facilitates their absorption into the liver, fat, and skeletal muscle cells. This process enables the carbs, particularly glucose to be used as fuel by the cells, to release energy.
• In type 2 diabetes, the body produces insulin but is unable to use it in the right manner. 90 – 95 % of the people who have been diagnosed with diabetes suffer from this form of diabetes.
• Type 1 diabetes is when the body’s immune system destroys cells in the pancreas that release insulin. Only 5-10% of people who have been diagnosed with diabetes suffer from this form of diabetes.
Type 1 diabetes is also known as juvenile diabetes or insulin-dependent diabetes. There are various factors that have been identified that lead to this condition. It has been found that the genetic predisposition to Type 1 diabetes is quite high. Despite heavy research on this subject, there has been no treatment for this form of diabetes. Treatment mostly focuses on managing blood sugar levels with the right amounts of insulin, diet, and lifestyle changes.
Symptoms include increased thirst, frequent urination, extreme hunger, mood swings, fatigue, and blurred vision.
Grave’s disease is when the thyroid gland becomes overly active. When the thyroid gland becomes hyperactive it produces copious amounts of the Thyroid hormone. The thyroid hormone is primarily responsible for the regulation of metabolism. And this is linked to functions concerning a number of organ systems. In Grave’s disease, at times there are no perceptible symptoms at all. But when symptoms are present, they can vary widely.
Symptoms usually include an enlarged thyroid, insomnia, irritability, sensitivity to heat, muscle weakness, shaky hands, frequent bowel movements, change in menstrual cycles, rapid or irregular heartbeat and weight loss despite normal eating habits.
Besides these, there are two characteristic symptoms associated with Grave’s disease.
• Grave’s ophthalmopathy: This refers to the inflammation of the muscles and tissues around the eyes often leading to bulging eyes. The bulge at times is also coupled with double vision, light sensitivity, and pain in the eyes.
• Grave’s dermopathy: This refers to the reddening and thickening of the skin mostly on the shins and the tops of the feet.