ARTICLE ON AUTO IMMUNE DISEASES
The immune system itself is a complex network of cells and molecules that are constantly working to protect the body from germs and other foreign invaders in the environment. 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.
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. these attacks can affect any part of the body, weakening bodily function and even turning life-threatening.
There are over 100 known autoimmune diseases. Common ones include lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis.
Autoimmune diseases can affect many types of tissues and nearly any organ in your body. They may cause a variety of symptoms including pain, tiredness (fatigue), rashes, nausea, headaches, dizziness and more. Specific symptoms depend on the exact disease.
Imagine that your body is a castle and your immune system is your army fighting off invaders like bacteria. If your army malfunctions and attacks the castle, you may have lupus, multiple sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis and/or psoriasis, among a hundred other autoimmune diseases. You may experience pain, fatigue, dizziness, rashes, depression and many more symptoms.
Commonly reported auto immune diseases include: Myasthenia gravis, Hashimoto thyroiditis, Guillian-Barre syndrome, vitiligo, type 1 diabetes mellitus, Graves diseases, Good pastures syndrome, pemphigus, rheumatoid arthritis, systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE), Addisons disease, multiple sclerosis, pernicious anaemia, autoimmune haemolytic anaemia, chronic active hepatitis, idiopathic thrombocytopenic purpura.
WHAT CAUSES AUTO IMMUNE DISEASES
Experts don’t know why your immune system turns on you. It’s like it can no longer tell the difference between what’s healthy and what’s not — between what’s you and what’s an invader. There are some theories about why this happens, but experts aren’t completely sure, yet some people are more likely to get an autoimmune disease than others.
Some factors that may increase your risk of developing an autoimmune disease can include:
- Your sex: People assigned female at birth between the age of 15 and 44 are more likely to get an autoimmune disease than people assigned male at birth.
- Your family history: You may be more likely to develop autoimmune diseases due to inherited genes, though environmental factors may also contribute.
- Environmental factors: Exposure to sunlight, mercury, chemicals like solvents or those used in agriculture, cigarette smoke, or certain bacterial and viral infections, including COVID-19, may increase your risk of autoimmune disease.
- Ethnicity: Some autoimmune diseases are more common in people in certain groups. For example, White people from Europe and the United States may be more likely to develop autoimmune muscle disease, while lupus tends to occur more in people who are African American, Hispanic, or Latino.
- Nutrition: Your diet and nutrients may impact the risk and severity of autoimmune disease.
- Other health conditions: Certain health conditions, including obesity and other autoimmune diseases, may make you more likely to develop an autoimmune disease.
Almost any part of the body can be targeted by the immune system as autoimmune disease can be systemic or can affect specific organs and tissues, including the heart, brain, nerves, muscles, skin, eyes, mouth, lungs, digestive tract and blood vessels or body systems including the endocrine, gastrointestinal and liver, rheumatological, and neurological systems. The systemic nature also means that the individual’s entire body can be affected and not always one specific organ or tissue. Although, depending on the part of the body affected, autoimmune diseases are treated by various healthcare professionals. This makes it even more challenging to diagnose them.
there is no one test that can diagnose autoimmune diseases but varied tests may help you pinpoint which autoimmune disease you may be dealing with. However, the first step is to do an antinuclear antibody test (ANA), a positive test may usually indicate the presence of an autoimmune disease but can be positive when autoimmune disorders are absent. Hence this test is supported with other confirmatory tests in concurrence with the presenting symptoms. Tests may include anti-dsDNA, anti-RNP, anti-Sjogren, ant-scleroderma, Rheumatoid factor”
To make a diagnosis of autoimmune disease may be relative with regards to the time it takes to make the diagnosis. Whilst it may be easy to diagnose type 1 diabetes by conducting sugar tests and glucose tolerance tests, it may not be that easy to make a diagnosis of Lupus (SLE). With most of these autoimmune diseases, they mimic symptoms that are seemingly prodromal at first, then worsen as time goes by. Hence in non-specialised centres, the diagnosis may never be made.
The symptoms of autoimmune disease are also notably vague and often mistaken for several other health issues, making it even more difficult to diagnose. However, in the earlier stages, many people are reported to present with a similar line of signs and symptoms such as fatigue, aching muscles, swelling and redness, low-grade fever, skin rashes or dryness, trouble concentrating, numbness and tingling in the hands and feet or hair loss. The similarity in the symptoms of most autoimmune diseases means that patients often go through various routes of care until their autoimmune disease is discovered by the appropriate healthcare professional in their respective fields of medicine.
FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
Qn: Are autoimmune diseases genetic?
A: Yes. Some autoimmune diseases run in families.
Qn: Are autoimmune diseases contagious?
Qn: Are autoimmune diseases fatal?
A: Autoimmune diseases are one of the top 10 causes of death in women in all age groups (up to age 64).
Qn: How do autoimmune diseases affect you if you’re trying to get pregnant?
A: 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.