When you have an autoimmune disorder, your immune system does not distinguish between healthy tissue and potentially harmful antigens. As a result, the body sets off a reaction that destroys normal tissues.
The exact cause of autoimmune disorders is unknown. One theory is that some microorganisms (such as bacteria or viruses) or drugs may trigger changes that confuse the immune system. This may happen more often in people who have genes that make them more prone to autoimmune disorders.
Ana-Maria Orbai, M.D., M.H.S., is a rheumatologist at the Johns Hopkins Arthritis Center. Rheumatologists specialize in diagnosing and treating musculoskeletal diseases and autoimmune conditions (rheumatic disease). Orbai talks about how to recognize common autoimmune disease symptoms and when you should see a doctor.
Certain autoimmune diseases, such as multiple sclerosis and lupus, run in families. Not every family member will necessarily have the same disease, but they inherit a susceptibility to an autoimmune condition.
BOTTOM LINE: The main treatment for autoimmune diseases is with medications that bring down inflammation and calm the overactive immune response. Treatments can also help relieve symptoms.
Immune system disorders cause abnormally low activity or over activity of the immune system. In cases of immune system overactivity, the body attacks and damages its own tissues (autoimmune diseases). Immune deficiency diseases decrease the body's ability to fight invaders, causing vulnerability to infections.
In response to an unknown trigger, the immune system may begin producing antibodies that instead of fighting infections, attack the body's own tissues. Treatment for autoimmune diseases generally focuses on reducing immune system activity. Examples of autoimmune diseases include:
Graves disease is an autoimmune disorder that involves overactivity of the thyroid (hyperthyroidism). Hallmarks of the condition are bulging eyes (exophthalmos), heat intolerance, increased energy, difficulty sleeping, diarrhea and anxiety.
Multiple sclerosis is a central nervous system disorder marked by decreased nerve function with initial inflammation of the protective myelin nerve covering and eventual scarring. Symptoms and severity of symptoms vary widely and may progress into episodes of crisis alternating with episodes of remission.
Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disease in which the body's immune system attacks itself. The pattern of joints affected is usually symmetrical, involves the hands and other joints and is worse in the morning. Rheumatoid arthritis is also a systemic disease, involving other body organs, whereas osteoarthritis is limited to the joints. Over time, both forms of arthritis can be crippling.
Systemic lupus erythematosus is a chronic inflammatory autoimmune disorder which may affect many organ systems including the skin, joints and internal organs. The disease may be mild or severe and life-threatening. African-Americans and Asians are disproportionately affected.
Your immune system is made up of organs and cells meant to protect your body from bacteria, parasites, viruses and cancer cells. An autoimmune disease is the result of the immune system accidentally attacking your body instead of protecting it. It's unclear why your immune system does this.
Some autoimmune diseases can affect your ability to get pregnant and some have adverse effects on pregnancy. You may need fertility treatments to get pregnant. You might also want to wait until your disease is in the remission stage to try to conceive.
Diagnosing an autoimmune disease usually takes healthcare providers longer than it does to diagnose other diseases. This is because many autoimmune diseases have similar symptoms with each other and with other diseases. You can help your healthcare provider with the diagnosing process by bringing the following to your appointment:
Living with an autoimmune disease can be complicated. Diseases like lupus, rheumatoid arthritis and multiple sclerosis are complex and serious. Although there are no cures for these diseases, many of their symptoms can be treated, and sometimes they go into remission. Stay in touch with your healthcare provider about any advances in understanding and treating autoimmune diseases.
If you think you may have an autoimmune disease, see your healthcare provider as soon as possible for diagnosis and treatment. Your symptoms will be easier to manage if the condition is treated promptly.
A healthy immune system defends the body against disease and infection. But if the immune system malfunctions, it mistakenly attacks healthy cells, tissues, and organs. Called autoimmune disease, these attacks can affect any part of the body, weakening bodily function and even turning life-threatening.
Scientists know about more than 80 autoimmune diseases. Some are well known, such as type 1 diabetes, multiple sclerosis, lupus, and rheumatoid arthritis, while others are rare and difficult to diagnose. With unusual autoimmune diseases, patients may suffer years before getting a proper diagnosis. Most of these diseases have no cure. Some require lifelong treatment to ease symptoms.
Studies indicate these diseases likely result from interactions between genetic and environmental factors. Gender, race, and ethnicity characteristics are linked to a likelihood of developing an autoimmune disease.2 Autoimmune diseases are more common when people are in contact with certain environmental exposures, as described below.
Unraveling the genetic and environmental underpinnings of autoimmune disease is a focus at NIEHS and the National Toxicology Program (NTP). Progress happens through multiple research efforts, such as:
The immune system is a collection of special cells and chemicals that fight infection-causing agents such as bacteria and viruses. An autoimmune disorder occurs when a person's immune system mistakenly attacks their own body tissues.
There are around 80 different autoimmune disorders ranging in severity from mild to disabling, depending on which system of the body is under attack and to what degree. For unknown reasons, women are more susceptible than men, particularly during their childbearing years. It is thought that sex hormones may be at least partly responsible. There is generally no cure, but the symptoms of autoimmune disorders can be managed.
PANDAS is considered a pediatric disorder and typically first appears in childhood from age 3 to puberty. Reactions to strep infections are rare after age 12, but researchers recognize that PANDAS could occur, though rarely, among adolescents. It is unlikely that someone would experience these post-strep neuropsychiatric symptoms for the first time as an adult, but it has not been fully studied.
Please note: NIMH does not evaluate the professional qualifications and competence of individual health care providers listed on these websites. The resources are provided for general informational purposes only. NIMH does not intend to provide specific medical advice on its websites, but rather to help visitors better understand mental health and disorders. NIMH will not provide specific medical advice and urges you to consult with a qualified mental health or health care provider for diagnosis and answers to your personal questions.
Sjögren's syndrome is an autoimmune condition, which means that instead of protecting the body from infection or illness, the immune system reacts abnormally and starts attacking healthy cells and tissue.
STANFORD, Calif. - Ten years ago, Stanford University School of Medicine scientist Emmanuel Mignot, MD, PhD, and his colleagues made headlines when they identified the culprit behind the sleep disorder narcolepsy. Now Mignot and his collaborators have shown for the first time that a specific immune cell is involved in the disorder - confirming experts' long-held suspicion that narcolepsy is an autoimmune disease.
The work, published online May 3 in Nature Genetics, could lead to better treatments for the sleep disorder and help immunologists understand other, more common autoimmune diseases, such as multiple sclerosis and juvenile diabetes.
Mignot and others believe that the body's immune system plays a role in killing hypocretin-making cells, primarily because of scientific literature showing a link between narcolepsy and a variant for the human leukocyte antigen, or HLA, gene. The immune system uses HLAs to differentiate between "self" cells and foreign cells (and attacks those presented as foreign), and most autoimmune diseases are associated with variants of HLA. In recent studies, more than 90 percent of narcolepsy patients were shown to carry one such variant.
"This is a very important finding," said Merrill Mitler, PhD, a sleep disorders expert and program director at the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, who was not involved in the study. "It puts in place another piece of the puzzle and shows a way to link [this gene variant] to hypocretin-containing neurons via an autoimmune attack."
"I'm sure immunologists are going to be very excited," said Mignot of the findings. "If we can work out what happens specifically in patients with narcolepsy, we'll be able to better understand the role of T cells in other autoimmune diseases that are more complicated and difficult to detect."
There are many different autoimmune diseases. Some involve only one type of tissue. For example, in a disease called vasculitis, your immune system attacks your blood vessels. Other autoimmune diseases involve many different parts of the body. Lupus, for example, can damage the skin, heart, lungs, and more. 781b155fdc