Autoimmune Disorders – When Your Body Attacks You
The term ‘autoimmune disorders’ refers to a large and varied group of illnesses that involves almost every organ in the body. These disorders are more likely to occur in women than in men, especially during child-bearing years.
What Is Autoimmunity?
Your immune system, which consists of different types of cells, constantly works to protect you from ‘attacks’ by substances such as viruses and germs. The system recognizes these substances as being foreign and will send particular cells to kill them.
When the system doesn’t work right, however, this process can cause harm. Immune cells can mistake your body’s own cells as invaders and attack them. This ‘friendly fire’ can affect almost any part of the body, sometimes targeting many organs at the same time. This condition is called autoimmunity (meaning self-immunity).
What Causes Autoimmunity?
Although autoimmune disorders are still poorly understood, research is starting to identify certain genetic, hormonal and environmental risk factors that contribute to these disorders. If you have a certain gene or combination of genes, you may be at higher risk for autoimmune disease.
You won’t, however, get the disease until something around you switches on your immune system. This may include exposure to the sun, infections, drugs or, in some women, pregnancy.
Are There Any Particular Symptoms?
No, the symptoms vary, depending on the type of disease and the organ it attacks. If the skin is the target, you may have rashes or blisters. If it’s the thyroid gland, you may be tired or gain weight. If it’s the joints, you may have joint pain and loss of function.
Examples Of Autoimmune Disorders
Systemic lupus erythematosus (lupus or SLE) affects nine times as many women as men.
Symptoms vary from person to person, and may come and go. The condition may affect one organ or body system at first. Others may become involved later. Almost all people with lupus have joint pain and most develop arthritis. Patients can suffer from fever, weight and hair loss, mouth and nose sores, and fatigue. Many develop a classic ‘butterfly’ rash on the nose and cheeks.
2. Rheumatoid Arthritis
This affects around three times more women than men, causing inflammation of the joints, surrounding tissues and sometimes other organs. The disease usually begins gradually, with fatigue, stiffness in the morning, widespread muscle aches, loss of appetite and weakness. Rheumatoid arthritis usually affects joints on both sides of the body equally.
3. Graves’ Disease
Graves’ Disease targets women seven times as often as men. Patients produce an excessive amount of thyroid hormone. Two characteristic symptoms are the protruding of one or both eyeballs, and swelling, usually in the lower limbs, making the skin resemble that of an orange. Other symptoms include weight loss, and increased heart rate and blood pressure.
4. Multiple Sclerosis
Multiple Sclerosis usually appears between the ages of 20 and 40, and is twice as likely to occur in women. It is a disease of the central nervous system.
Nerves are covered and protected by a fatty layer called myelin. In Multiple Sclerosis, this myelin layer is gradually destroyed. Some scientists feel this disease might not be autoimmune in nature.
Multiple Sclerosis can cause a variety of symptoms, including changes in sensation, muscle weakness, and difficulties with coordination and speech. In severe cases, Multiple Sclerosis can cause impaired mobility and disability.
5. Type 1 Diabetes
It may be a surprise to some people that this type of diabetes is considered an autoimmune disease, but it’s true!
The belief is that the body’s own immune system attacks certain cells in the pancreas, which is the organ that makes insulin, a hormone that helps the body convert sugar into energy. This attack may be triggered by various things, such as a viral infection or certain chemicals.
How Are Autoimmune Diseases Treated?
Treatment depends on the type of disease, how severe it is, and its symptoms. Generally, treatments have one of three goals:
- Relieving symptoms
If the symptoms bother you, your doctor may suggest treatments that give some relief. Relieving symptoms may be as simple as taking a drug for pain or as involved as having surgery.
- Preserving organ function
When autoimmune diseases threaten organs, treatment may be needed to prevent damage. These treatments don’t stop the disease, but they can save organ function. They can also help people live with the complications that arise from long-term illness.
- Targeting disease mechanisms
Some drugs may also be used to target how the disease works. In other words, they can suppress the immune system and prevent the attacks by your body. But these drugs come with side effects, hence the use of natural or herbal remedies. Herbal and homeopathic remedies are 100% natural and gentle, yet effective to use without the potential side effects of prescription medications.