Autoimmune diseases are a condition by which a person’s immune system—a system that is meant to shield us from disease—actually begins to attack the body. In healthy people, the immune system will act in this protective capacity. However in people who struggle with their health, their bodies can confuse healthy tissue for unhealthy tissue and will begin attacking it. This can lead to the onset of autoimmune diseases.
Autoimmunity: The Basics
Approximately 5 to 8 percent of the United States’ current population suffers from autoimmune diseases. And for reasons yet unknown, the presence of these diseases is steadily on the increase. While these conditions can come to affect persons of all ages and genders, women of childbearing age are those who fall victim to autoimmunity most often. In addition, heredity plays an indispensable role in the development of autoimmune diseases; thus if your family has a history of autoimmunity, you are more likely to fall victim to it as well.
Autoimmune Diseases: The Hardest-Hitting Players
While there are upwards of 80 autoimmune diseases, some are certainly more common and recognizable than others. The following are the five most prevalent forms that autoimmune diseases adopt:
1) Graves’ Disease. This autoimmune disease takes the form of an over-active thyroid gland. Certain persons affected by graves’ disease will experience a wide host symptoms, including: rapid and unexplained weight loss, protruding eyes, sensitivity to heat and even brittle hair. Others, however, will experience no physical symptoms whatsoever. In both cases graves’ disease is easily treated by a radioactive iodine pill: which effectively destroys the overactive thyroid cells themselves.
2) Lupus. When a person suffers from lupus, the antibodies that their immune system produces act against their body’s best interest. Indeed, lupus produces chronically painful swelling and damage in and around their joints and organs. Other symptoms of lupus include rashes and even sensitivity to the sun’s rays. Treatments for this autoimmune disease vary widely depending on a person’s physician, and symptoms, but include anti-inflammatory drugs and certain alterations in lifestyle. Again, lifestyle changes will vary but diminishing stress and anxiety is often at the top of the list.
3) Type 1 Diabetes. Type 1 Diabetes is, in the main, diagnosed during one’s infancy or he or she enters adulthood. This autoimmune disease is—in essence—an attack on the pancreas which produces our body’s insulin. Moreover when a body lacks insulin, it becomes incapable of controlling glucose levels. In turn, this can lead to loss of vision, circulatory issues and even heart disease. Type 1 diabetics will have to administer their own insulin, in addition to monitoring both their sugar levels and dietary habits.
4) Multiple Sclerosis. Multiple Sclerosis, or MS, manifests in a number of highly visible and unsettling ways. People suffering from MS often experience difficulty speaking coherently and walking with stability. MS can also lead to paralysis and lack of feeling in one’s extremities. There are a number of medications that allow people to manage their symptoms of MS, and function as normally as is otherwise possible.
5) Rheumatoid arthritis. Rheumatoid arthritis is a chronically painful sub-class of arthritis. This type of arthritis provokes the immune system to begin attacking the tissues in our joints. In effect, this leads to severe muscle pain, deformities in the joints and a host of other residual side-effects. Like many of the autoimmune diseases here examined, RA manifests differently in different people. Therefore, treatment options will vary widely as well. Many of these treatments center on decreasing joint inflammation and improve a patient’s everyday bodily comfort.
If you suffer from an autoimmune disease, rest assured. You are not powerless to deal with your disease’s root causes and effects. See your physician and work out a solid treatment plan. And, never hesitate to follow-up if you feel you require further medical attention.