Autoimmune diseases can best be described as disorders which will use the body’s own immune system to produce antibodies, after reacting with its own tissue, to attack itself. The immune system is fairly complicated and encompasses a whole network of cells, organs and molecules. Its main purpose is to defend the body against attacks from bacteria, fungi, germs, parasites and viruses. Whenever one of these outside influences tries to break into the body, the skin and mucous membranes will form the first line of defense. It is the skin and mucous membranes that house the white cells of the tissues, known as macrophages, and also antibodies. The macrophages will specifically digest any foreign elements that try to attack the body, while the antibodies will trap any of these elements that got away.
Generally if antibodies attack the body’s own cells, the result is likely to be an autoimmune disorder. This has many varied consequences which can include stimulating an organ to grow much larger, destroying specific cells or tissues, and even interfering with the functions of the organs. The most common parts of the body that are affected by an autoimmune disease are the adrenal glands, muscles, joints, pancreas, skin and thyroid. This is why most autoimmune disorders have two types of classification. Firstly you have an organ specific autoimmune disorder, which will mainly be directed at one organ. You also have a non-organ specific autoimmune disorder, which may well spread throughout the body.
Organ specific autoimmune disorders may include type I diabetes, which is known to affect the pancreas. There is also Hahimoto’s thyroiditis and Graves’ disease which both specifically affect the thyroid gland. Hepatitis is known to affect the liver, while Addison’s disease will affect the stomach. Non-organ specific autoimmune disorders may well include rheumatoid arthritis, multiple sclerosis and lupus.
There are numerous factors that may cause an autoimmune disease and these include environmental toxins, viruses, it may be hereditary and also certain drugs may have an effect. Factors that may weaken the immune system can also lead to autoimmune disease and these include stress, lack of sleep, excessive alcohol intake, use of tobacco, a lack of exercise and a poor diet. Unfortunately the signs and symptoms of autoimmune diseases can vary wildly, and this is very much dependent on the specific autoimmune disease you are suffering.
In order to diagnose an autoimmune disease your doctor will be required to take a complete medical history. They will also need to order blood tests and a complete physical examination. It is also likely that they will need to complete a radiological study, as well as many other studies. Many of the tests that your doctor will order are targeted to actually rule in or rule out a specific autoimmune disease. Some examples of this would be thyroid function tests to spot thyroid disorders and the rheumatoid factor test to spot rheumatoid arthritis.
You will actually find that the majority of autoimmune diseases cannot be treated directly. They are typically treated according to the symptoms associated with the specific condition you may be suffering from. There are a variety of drugs that can be used to suppress the immune response and additionally this will help to halt the progression of the disease. These drugs may include corticosteroid drugs, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, and often extremely powerful immunosuppressant drugs will be used. The most common forms of immunosuppressant drugs are azathioprine and cyclophosphamide. Another way to treat autoimmune disease is via radiation of the lymph nodes and plasmapheresis. This specific procedure will aid the removal of harmful molecules and diseased cells from your blood circulation.
It is also important that you do all you can to naturally boost your immunity. This may include changing your eating habits and exercising on a more regular basis. It is recommended that you eat a diet that is high in fruit and fresh vegetables, low-fat dairy products, brown rice, fish, poultry and whole grains. Aim to exercise on a daily basis if possible and you should also take a daily multivitamin.
Although there are various types of autoimmune disease some of the potential signs and symptoms that you should look out for include, fever, coughing, haemoptysis, wheezing, diarrhoea, joint pain and rashes. You may also find that as your immune system is being attacked, you may have an overwhelming feeling of fatigue and certain neurological abnormalities. Although, as mentioned, many autoimmune diseases cannot be treated directly, there are numerous clinical trials and research studies that are currently being conducted. Each of these trials will involve supervised tests to determine how safe and effective certain new drugs are. These trials will also evaluate the risks and side effects that may be associated with taking these drugs.