Our immune system defends us against bacteria and virus and ensures that we don’t fall ill. Babies and young children fall sick often as their immune system is still in the process of being built. As we get older, the immune system gets stronger and forms a protective shield that guards us from disease. Autoimmune diseases are illnesses that affect the immune system and lower its performance making our body susceptible to other diseases.
Causes of autoimmune diseases
Autoimmune diseases occur when the immune system attacks and destroys the organs and tissues of its own host. The triggers for the development of an autoimmune disease vary. Some of them are:-
Genetics – Some families may have a genetic predisposition that may increase their risk of developing an autoimmune disease. It may not always be the same disease. For example, sometimes one sister can get rheumatoid arthritis while another can develop lupus.
Environment – Autoimmune disease can be triggered as a reaction to your environment. Sunlight, chemicals solvents, viral and bacterial infections can be the trigger.
Stress – New research has identified stress as a cause of certain autoimmune diseases, such as psoriasis, lupus or rheumatoid arthritis. It has been found that many people who developed autoimmune diseases had been previously diagnosed with stress-related disorders.
Hormonal changes – Estrogen, the female hormone can trigger autoimmune diseases like multiple sclerosis and RA. Women may be more at risk for certain autoimmune disease during pregnancy and menopause as their body goes through hormonal changes.
Medication – Certain antibiotics and immunosuppressant drugs which are prescribed for illnesses may trigger autoimmune diseases.
Common autoimmune diseases
Rheumatoid arthritis (RA)
Our immune system produces antibodies to protect our body and fight illnesses. In a person with RA, these antibodies attach themselves to the joints causing swelling, aches, and inflammation. Treatment for rheumatoid arthritis includes medications, occupational or physical therapy, and regular exercise.
In people infected by lupus, the antibodies produced by the immune system attach themselves to tissues throughout the body. Organs commonly affected by lupus include kidneys, nerves, blood cells, lungs and the joints. Symptoms of lupus are managed with medication.
Multiple sclerosis (MS)
The immune system turns against the body’s own nerve cells and causes MS. Symptoms include pain, blindness, weakness, poor coordination, and muscle spasms. Multiple sclerosis symptoms are managed with medication.
Type 1 diabetes mellitus
In a person with diabetes mellitus, antibodies attack and destroy insulin-producing cells in the pancreas. People with type 1 diabetes require regular insulin injections.
This autoimmune disease occurs when our immune system attacks the nerves controlling muscles of the legs, arms and upper body. This causes severe weakness in the legs and an inability to support oneself. Filtering the blood is the main treatment for this autoimmune disease.
A person with psoriasis has an overactive immune system where blood cells called T-cells collect on the skin. It causes silvery, scaly plaques on the skin that can spread rapidly. Stress is a trigger for psoriasis. Medication and stress relieving activities can help treat this disease.