An autoimmune disease is like a bodyguard gone wrong. Typically, your immune system finds and attacks potentially harmful substances. But when it thinks healthy cells are the “bad guys”, the body works against itself which result in an autoimmune disease. While there are more than 80 types, they share a common thread – Inflammation. The symptoms differ depending on the affected area, but it can be tricky to deal with. It’s like the immune system has a mind of its own.
Getting the right diagnosis can be hard as many autoimmune diseases share symptoms. Yet, over 23.5 million Americans suffer from autoimmune diseases, proving how common they are.1 About 78 percent are women, which suggests a hormonal connection.23 Take the time to learn about the most common ones. With this knowledge, you can keep an eye out for signs or symptoms. The sooner you get diagnosed, the sooner you can begin management.
What Is An Autoimmune Disease?
An autoimmune disease causes your body to attack itself by mistake. It releases autoantibodies, which fight the normal cells. Meanwhile, the immunity’s white blood cells are unable to control the chaos. The result? Symptoms of an autoimmune disease.4
Causes Of Autoimmune Diseases
Scientists aren’t positive what causes autoimmune diseases. They seem to run in families, so genes are likely at play. From there, an outside factor may trigger the disease, like bacteria. You can catch an autoimmune disease. However, it can be sparked by infectious agents such as a virus.5
Types Of Autoimmune Diseases
Again, there are more than 80 kinds. Some are more common than others. To help you understand autoimmunity, here are nine examples.
1. Type 1 Diabetes
Type 1 diabetes, which is often found in childhood, is nicknamed “juvenile” diabetes. It develops when the immune system attacks beta cells in the pancreas. In turn, the pancreas makes little to no insulin, the hormone that helps cells take up glucose. Blood glucose levels are thrown for a loop, so daily insulin therapy is needed.
This prevents life-threatening complications, such as hyper or hypoglycemia.6 In America, 1.25 million children and adults have type 1. Exercise, healthy diet, and proper management makes it possible to live a long and healthy life.7
2. Inflammatory Bowel Disease
When the immune system targets the colon, inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) takes place. This includes two conditions, Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis. Crohn’s can affect any part of the gastrointestinal tract, while ulcerative colitis only impacts the large intestine and rectum. Symptoms include constant diarrhea, stomach pain, bloody stools, fatigue, and unwanted weight loss.8 About 600,000 Americans have IBD. Treatment includes avoiding dietary triggers, stress relief, and sometimes surgery.9
3. Multiple Sclerosis
The immune system can also attack myelin, the fatty covering that protects nerve fibers. Myelin makes nerve signal communication quick and easy. Without it, a central nervous system disorder called multiple sclerosis develops. Weakness, numbness, and poor balance are common symptoms. Other signs include blurred vision, problems with speech, or loss of bladder control. The first symptoms usually crop up between ages 20 and 40.10 Between 300,000 to 400,000 Americans have MS.11 There is no cure, but medication and physical therapy can help.12
4. Rheumatoid Arthritis
Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) develops when the immune system targets the joints. The hands, wrists, and knees are commonly affected. Everyday tasks like walking and cooking can be difficult. Pain, stiffness, tenderness, and swelling are tell-tale signs. Age is a big risk factor, but women are 2 to 3 times more likely to get RA.13 Roughly 1.5 million people in the United States have RA. Exercise, rest, and weight management are the main line of treatment.14
5. Alopecia Areata
The immune system can even attack hair follicles, causing alopecia areata. Bald spots are small and round about the size of a quarter. Luckily, alopecia areata won’t lead to complete baldness.15 About 5 percent of people have the condition. It’s also different for everyone, so you may or may not re-grow hair.16 While there’s no cure, natural remedies like peppermint or rosemary oil may help.
In psoriasis, the immune system messes with skin cell turnover. The cells rise to the surface too fast, causing itchy and red patches. Symptoms, which may include silvery scales and soreness, may come and go.17 Psoriasis affects 6.7 million adults in the country.18 Light therapy and natural moisturizers can naturally ease the symptoms of psoriasis.
7. Hashimoto’s Disease
Hashimoto’s disease develops when the immune system affects the thyroid gland, causing low thyroid hormone (TH) production. It’s also known as Hashimoto thyroiditis and autoimmune thyroiditis. Almost every organ needs TH. If there isn’t enough, the body slows down. Weight gain, constipation, depression, abnormal periods, and memory issues are possible symptoms.
Hashimoto’s disease often crops up between 30 and 50 years old.19 It affects 1 to 2 percent of American adults, but it’s more common in women.20 Aside from hormone replacement therapy, a well-rounded diet is key to management. Be mindful with iodine, which can worse hypothyroidism in high amounts.21
8. Graves’ Disease
Graves’ disease, which causes hyperthyroidism, is the opposite of Hashimoto’s. It also goes by toxic diffuse goiter. If there’s an overproduction of TH, symptoms include nervousness, rapid heartbeat, weight loss, heat intolerance, fatigue, and hand tremors. For some, Graves’ causes thickened and reddened skin. The eyes might also seem to bulge out, a condition called Graves’ ophthalmopathy.22
One in 200 Americans have Graves’ disease.23 It’s also 7 to 8 times more common in women than men.24 Anti-thyroid drugs are the traditional treatment, but correcting selenium deficiency may also help.25
9. Celiac Disease
If you have celiac disease, the immune system attacks the small intestine after eating gluten. This protein is found in wheat, barley, and rye. It causes digestive damage and messes with nutrient absorption.26 Bloating, constipation, diarrhea, gas, stomach pain, and vomiting are common symptoms.27 Despite the popularity of gluten-free diets, 1 in 133 people have celiac disease. This equals at least 3 million Americans.28 Avoiding foods with gluten is the best move.
Eating for immune health is a great idea for anyone. But with an autoimmune disease, it’s even more important. With a well-rounded lifestyle, these conditions can be successfully controlled.
|↑1||Autoimmune Diseases. WomensHealth.gov, Office on Women’s Health.|
|↑2||Fairweather, DeLisa, and Noel R. Rose. “Women and autoimmune diseases.” Emerging infectious diseases 10, no. 11 (2004): 2005.|
|↑3||Understanding Autoimmune Diseases. National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases.|
|↑4||Autoimmune Diseases. WomensHealth.gov, Office on Women’s Health.|
|↑5||Ercolini, A. M., and S. D. Miller. “The role of infections in autoimmune disease.” Clinical & Experimental Immunology 155, no. 1 (2009): 1-15.|
|↑6||Type 1 Diabetes. National Center for Biotechnology Information.|
|↑7||Statistics About Diabetes. American Diabetes Association.|
|↑8||What is inflammatory bowel disease (IBD)? Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.|
|↑9||Botoman, V. ALIN, GREGORY F. Bonner, and Daniela A. Botoman. “Management of inflammatory bowel disease.” American family physician 57, no. 1 (1998): 57-68.|
|↑10||Multiple Sclerosis (MS). National Center for Biotechnology Information.|
|↑11||Common Questions. Multiple Sclerosis Foundation.|
|↑12||Multiple Sclerosis. MedlinePlus, U.S. National Library of Medicine.|
|↑13||Rheumatoid Arthritis. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.|
|↑14||Handout on Health: Rheumatoid Arthritis. National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases.|
|↑15||What Is Alopecia Areata? National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases.|
|↑16||Alopecia areata. American Academy of Dermatology.|
|↑17||Psoriasis. MedlinePlus, U.S. National Library of Medicine.|
|↑18||Questions and Answers about Psoriasis. National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases.|
|↑19, ↑21||Hashimoto’s Disease. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases.|
|↑20||Hashimoto thyroiditis. Genetics Home Reference, U.S. National Library of Medicine.|
|↑22, ↑24||Graves’ disease. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases.|
|↑23||Graves’ disease. American Thyroid Association.|
|↑25||Winther, Kristian H., Steen Bonnema, and Laszlo Hegedüs. “Is selenium supplementation in autoimmune thyroid diseases justified?.” Current Opinion in Endocrinology, Diabetes and Obesity (2017).|
|↑26||What Is Celiac Disease? Celiac Disease Foundation.|
|↑27||Symptoms & Causes of Celiac Disease. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases.|
|↑28||Celiac Disease Facts and Figures. The University of Chicago Celiac Disease Center.|