What are autoimmune diseases?

Written by: Top Doctors®
Edited by: Top Doctors®

Autoimmune diseases are those that affect the body’s immune system, causing the production of autoantibodies. Your body's immune system protects you from disease and infection. But if you have an autoimmune disease, your immune system mistakenly attacks healthy cells. Autoimmune diseases can affect many different parts of the body. Because it is a disease as commonly-occurring as it is varied. No one is sure what causes autoimmune diseases though they do tend to run in families.


How are autoimmune diseases diagnosed?

There are more than 80 types of autoimmune diseases including type 1 diabetes, coeliac disease, autoimmune hepatitis and rheumatoid arthritis). This makes an accurate diagnosis problematic. Getting one can be frustrating and stressful. Often, the first symptoms are fatigue, muscle aches and a fever. The tell-tale sign of an autoimmune disease is inflammation, which can cause redness, pain and swelling.

What are the symptoms of autoimmune diseases?

Each autoimmune disease is associated with a specific pattern of autoantibodies and their symptoms and vary accordingly. The symptoms can be multiple, because they are varied diseases, although arthralgias and skin lesions are common. The specificity of the autoantibodies produced will define the symptomatology of the disease. The diseases may also have flare-ups, when they get worse, and remissions, when symptoms get better or disappear.

Treating autoimmune diseases

In many cases, drugs are used to minimise the immune response. Nowadays there are multiple treatments aimed at suppressing the production of autoantibodies and modulating their activity, or even suppressing, if necessary, excessive activity of the immune system. These treatments will depend on the specific diagnosis of the disease. The treatment’s main objective is to suppress the activity. Once this is achieved, the dose can be lowered or even switched to less potent immunosuppressants in order to maintain the correct level.


By Topdoctors

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