Autoimmune Diseases

This very general and brief article is devoted to autoimmune diseases in general. This diverse group of diseases occurs because of abnormal actions of our immune system. Among the best-known autoimmune diseases belong the below mentioned conditions.

 

Addison's disease (peripheral form)
Autoimmune hemolytic anemia
Autoimmune hepatitis
Bechterew's disease
Celiac Disease
Crohn's disease
Type 1 Diabetes
Graves’ disease
Psoriasis
Myasthenia gravis
Pemphigus
Polymyositis
Primary biliary cirrhosis
Primary sclerosing cholangitis
Rheumatic fever
Rheumatoid arthritis
Multiple sclerosis
Sjögren's syndrome
Scleroderma
Systemic lupus erythematosus
Ulcerative colitis
Wegener's granulomatosis

Causes

These diseases have not a precisely known cause. We assume that they are somehow caused by a genetic predisposition that combines with outer factors.

These outer factors are able to trigger the pathological immune response. We suspect some viral infections (especially upper respiratory tract infections). Such infection is quickly overwhelmed by our immunity but it somehow provokes our immune cells to attack our own tissues or organs. Such outer inducing factor is known in celiac disease. It is not an infection, but gluten (protein present in grains) in our diet that triggers the immune process. Once the pathological immune response starts, the immune cells antibodies attack certain structures of the body. Sometimes more body system are affected (as is the case for SLE), but otherwise only one certain tissue or organ is damaged and the disease manifests due to malfunction of this tissue or organ. It happens often that a person with one autoimmune disease develops another during his or her life. For example, a patient with type 1 diabetes may also develop Crohn's disease, etc.

Symptoms

As mentioned above, the manifestations of these diseases are very colorful and it depends on organs or tissue damaged by the immune inflammation. Damage to gut cells causes symptoms like diarrhea, blood in the stool, abdominal pain and maldigestion of nutrients. Damage to skin cells manifests like various rashes. Joint damage causes joint pain, swelling and redness. Damage to pancreatic cells causes emergence of type 1 diabetes. Lung affection has frequently form of lung fibrosis. If you are interested in symptoms of particular autoimmune diseases read about them in relevant articles.

Prevention

Prevention of these diseases is not yet possible. If a person already has the disease, it is advisable to avoid the risk factors that make it worse (if possible). For example it is the avoidance of gluten in celiac disease, avoiding infections by having a multiple sclerosis and avoiding stress to prevent worsening of psoriasis.

Treatment

There are different types of drugs used against these diseases. However, these drugs are more or less objected to suppress the immune system. The problem is that with suppressed immune system man is easier to contract a dangerous infection or become ill with a cancer. Therefore, the immune dampening drugs must be used wisely and there is a great effort to develop new drugs that act targeted only against pathological immune responses. In type 1 diabetes, insulin administration is the effective treatment. Of course, this only solves the consequences and does not cure the disease itself.

Corticosteroids are probably the most used group of drugs against autoimmune disorders. We prescribe them in form of tablets, ointments and even enemas. This medication work perfect but it has big side effects by chronic use. Relatively modern, but quite expensive, there is the so called biological therapy. Biological therapy is a more or less targeted effort to dampen the pathological immune reaction without disrupting the overall function of human immune system.