Autoimmune diseases affect an estimated 24 million Americans each year, but, if pressed, many people wouldn’t be able to name one single disease. This is due to the lack of awareness of such diseases, their causes and their symptoms.
The sad part is, those same people who may not know any autoimmune diseases when asked, actually do know a few: lupus, rheumatoid arthritis and Crohn’s Disease are all examples. The problem is that these same people don’t associate these afflictions with autoimmune diseases. But with education, that can change. There are over 100 autoimmune diseases that attack different parts of the body. Here is a brief explanation of them and three common ones.
Any autoimmune disease occurs when the natural antibodies in your blood begin to attack your own tissue as if it were a dangerous, invading microorganism such as bacteria or a virus. While the reasons for this are still not clear, something triggers your body into attacking itself: it basically sees your own cells as invaders and tries to destroy them. This leads to inflammation — a common symptom of autoimmune diseases — and, in some cases, extreme discomfort.
Depending on the disease, treatments can range from simple changes in diet and exercise to daily doses of medicines. Unfortunately, because of the pain some of these disease cause, opiates are prescribed for comfort, which can lead to an addiction. Some patients will even turn to illegal drugs or alcohol to ease the pain, but which ultimately causes more pain and problems which need to be dealt with in a drug rehab facility.
Here are three of the most common autoimmune diseases and their symptoms:
While the causes of Lupus are not fully understood, many doctors believe that it is a genetic disorder triggered by infections, sunlight or certain drugs. With this autoimmune disease, the immune system attacks tissues around the body, including the joints, kidneys, heart, skin and even brain, causing painful inflammation that can last for days.
As with most autoimmune diseases, there is no cure for lupus, only treatment. While flare-ups will still occur throughout their life, people afflicted with the disease can often live relatively normal lives with the help of steroids and other medicines to control inflammation and making lifestyle changes to a healthy diet and regular exercise.
Also for unknown reasons, lupus affects women much more commonly than men, with nearly 90% of all cases reported being female. Symptoms can begin showing at as young as 15 years old, but anyone older may start showing signs at any time.
A painful inflammation of the joints, rheumatoid arthritis most commonly in the hands and feet. While there are plenty of myths about the causes of arthritis, it is actually classified as an autoimmune disease where the immune system attacks the tissues between the bone joints. This causes pain that is typically associated with arthritis, but it can also be so severe as to bend the fingers and toes into a debilitating state where they can no longer be used.
While in rare cases children can be affected by arthritis, the disease is typically seen in people over 40 years old, especially in women. Medications and physical therapy can help slow the spread of the disease, with mild cases being treatable with small doses of anti-inflammatory NSAIDs such as acetaminophen and ibuprofen. More severe cases are treated with stronger medicines specifically designed to combat the pain and symptoms of arthritis.
Crohn’s Disease happens when the immune system attacks the tissues found inside the digestive tract. This can lead to abdominal pain, diarrhea, fatigue and anemia. Weight loss is also associated with Crohn’s, as people with the disease will sometimes stop eating to help alleviate the pain. Some mild cases may go unnoticed for long periods of time without a flare-up, while chronic cases can affect a person nearly every day.
Again, there is no cure for this disease, but there are treatments to help reduce the symptoms and allow for a comfortable life. A healthy diet and regular exercise can go a long way in keeping inflammation down. Medications can be used to suppress the immune system and keep the disease from worsening quickly, but this comes at a cost, as a suppressed immune system is susceptible to outside bacteria and viruses. Surgery is also available for the most severe cases.
Autoimmune diseases affect a large number of people and it’s important to know about them.
Toby Ryan is a medical researcher who likes coming up with article topics which get published online at health and medical sites.