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Autoimmune Diseases: Symptoms, Causes And Types

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Autoimmune diseases are a group of conditions in which the body's immune system mistakenly attacks healthy cells. These diseases can affect any body part, including organs, joints, and other tissues. The cause of autoimmune diseases is unknown. However, it is believed that a combination of genetics, environment, and lifestyle factors may be involved.

The immune system is typically on guard for any bacteria or viruses that could pose a threat. When it detects these foreign intruders, it dispatches a team of warrior cells to take them down. Normally, it can differentiate between your own cells and those that don't belong. 

But, in cases of autoimmune disease, the immune system mistakenly identifies a part of the body, such as the joints or skin, as foreign. It then releases autoantibodies to attack healthy cells. Some autoimmune diseases only affect one organ, like type 1 diabetes, which targets the pancreas. Other conditions, like lupus (or systemic lupus erythematosus), can have a more widespread effect.

Symptoms of Autoimmune Diseases

People with autoimmune diseases may experience a range of symptoms, including tiredness, aching muscles, swelling and redness, a low-grade fever, difficulty concentrating, numbness or tingling in their hands and feet, hair loss, and skin rashes. If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, speaking to your doctor for a proper diagnosis is important. In some cases, autoimmune diseases can cause organ damage if left untreated.

Causes of Autoimmune Diseases

The exact cause of autoimmune diseases is unknown, but experts believe a combination of genetics, environment and lifestyle factors may be involved. Some potential risk factors that may make you more prone to these conditions include taking certain medications, having relatives with autoimmune diseases, smoking, being female, obesity, and being exposed to toxins. 

Additionally, if you already have one autoimmune disease, you're more likely to develop another. Finally, infections can also factor in the onset of autoimmune diseases. Therefore, it's important to talk to your healthcare provider about any medications you may be taking and discuss the side effects to determine if they may play a role.

Types of Autoimmune Diseases

There are more than 80 types of autoimmune diseases. Some of the more common ones include:

1. Type 1 Diabetes

Type 1 diabetes is when the body's immune system attacks and destroys the cells that produce insulin, a hormone necessary for regulating blood sugar levels. Without insulin, sugar builds up in the blood, damaging the blood vessels and organs, such as the heart, kidneys, eyes, and nerves. It is a lifelong condition that requires careful monitoring and management. People with type 1 diabetes must take insulin injections or use an insulin pump to check their blood sugar levels. 

2. Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA)

Rheumatoid arthritis, or RA, is an autoimmune disease that causes the body's immune system to attack its joints, leading to redness, warmth, soreness, and stiffness. It is often seen in individuals in their 30s or younger, unlike osteoarthritis which generally affects older people. Those with RA may also experience fatigue and an overall feeling of malaise. Furthermore, inflammation caused by RA can lead to joint damage, structural deformity, and even disability in extreme cases.

3. Psoriasis/psoriatic Arthritis

Psoriasis is a skin condition in which skin cells replicate too quickly. This can cause red and inflamed patches, often accompanied by a silver-white plaque on lighter skin tones or purplish or dark brown with grey scales on darker skin tones. Approximately 30% of people with psoriasis also experience swelling, stiffness and joint pain, known as psoriatic arthritis. This can be difficult to live with, but treatments are available to help manage the symptoms. 

4. Multiple Sclerosis

Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a condition that disrupts the normal functioning of the central nervous system by causing damage to the protective sheath that covers nerve cells. This damage can cause various physical and cognitive symptoms, such as muscle weakness, numbness, balance issues, coordination problems and difficulty walking. 

There are several different types of MS, which can progress at various speeds and severity. As the myelin sheath is destroyed, the transmission speed of messages between the brain and body becomes hampered, leading to various physical and cognitive impairments. Depending on the type of MS and its progression, treatments may be prescribed to reduce the symptoms and slow down the progression of the illness.

5. Systemic Lupus Erythematosus (SLE)

Systemic Lupus Erythematosus (SLE) is an autoimmune disease that affects multiple organs in the body, primarily joints, kidneys, brain, and heart. Doctors first documented it in the 1800s due to its characteristic rash, one of the most common symptoms. Other symptoms include joint pain, fatigue and, occasionally, fever. 

Without prompt, accurate diagnosis and treatment, SLE can be life-threatening, leading to serious complications such as stroke, organ failure, and anaemia. Therefore, it is important to seek medical attention if you experience any of the symptoms associated with SLE, as early diagnosis and intervention are key in helping to manage and reduce the impact of this potentially disabling condition.

6. Inflammatory Bowel Disease

Inflammatory bowel disease, or IBD, is an umbrella term for chronic intestinal disorders. These conditions cause inflammation in the lining of the intestinal wall, leading to severe abdominal pain and other symptoms. The two most common forms of IBD are Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis. Crohn's disease can occur in any area of the gastrointestinal tract, while the only areas ulcerative colitis may occur are in the rectum and the colon. People with IBD may experience many symptoms, including abdominal cramping, bloating, diarrhoea, and fever. 

Conclusion

Autoimmune diseases can have a wide range of symptoms and can vary in severity. If you are experiencing any of the symptoms listed above, you must speak to your doctor for a proper diagnosis. However, many people with autoimmune diseases can lead full, healthy lives with early diagnosis and treatment.

It's better to get a checkup even if you don't feel unwell, as some autoimmune diseases can cause organ damage if left untreated. You can go to Metropolis Labs to identify your risk of developing an autoimmune disease and get an early diagnosis and necessary treatments. Metropolis Labs also provides home testing services so you can get tested without leaving your home.

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