Autoimmune conditions are those in which the immune system attacks the healthy cells of the body, rather than protect them. This can cause severe health issues, including disability and even death. Some of the most common autoimmune conditions are rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, type 1 diabetes, and autoimmune hepatitis.
Normally, the immune system produces white blood cells that attack invading substances, or antigens, such as viruses, bacteria, and toxins. In the case of autoimmune disorders, the immune system cannot distinguish between normal body tissue and antigens. It creates antibodies that attack its own tissues or organs, or both. Some of the tissues or organs commonly affected are blood vessels, the pancreas, joints, and the skin. The inflammation that results leads to autoimmune disease.
Rheumatoid arthritis (RA), a chronic disease that causes inflammation of the joints, is probably the most common of the autoimmune conditions. The cause of RA is unknown, and it may develop slowly or quickly—depending on the patient—and can occur at any age. Some of the symptoms of RA are extreme pain, stiffness, and deterioration of the joints. RA most commonly affects the hands, wrists, feet, ankles, and knees, equally on each side of the body. If left untreated, RA can be debilitating, and can significantly shorten a person’s life.
Lupus is another common autoimmune disease. It is a chronic disorder that attacks the systems of the body, such as the skin, blood, kidneys, and nervous system. Lupus can occur at any age, and symptoms can vary from one person to another. Symptoms, which may include persistent fatigue, arthritis, nausea, and rash, may come and go, with sudden flare-ups. There are many serious conditions that may result from lupus if left untreated, including kidney failure, pulmonary embolism, and stroke.
Another of the most common autoimmune conditions is type 1 diabetes. Type 1 diabetes is sometimes called juvenile or insulin-dependent diabetes, and is a chronic, lifelong disease that affects the pancreas by impeding its ability to produce insulin. Some of the acute or chronic problems that result from type 1 diabetes are increased urination, excessive thirst, abdominal pain, and fatigue. Over time, if not treated, type 1 diabetes will completely destroy the insulin-producing cells of the pancreas to the point that the body will no longer produce insulin at all.
Autoimmune hepatitis is also an autoimmune condition, and occurs when the immune system attacks the normal cells of the liver. It is not clear as to what may trigger the immune system to attack the liver, but it often results from viral infections, such as measles or Epstein-Barr, certain drugs, or genetics. Symptoms resulting from autoimmune hepatitis include anemia, fatigue, abdominal pain, jaundice, and mental confusion. This disease should not go untreated, as it will ultimately result in cirrhosis, or scarring, of the liver and eventually complete liver failure.
It is still not known what causes the immune system to confuse healthy body tissue for antigens. What is known, however, is that all autoimmune conditions are serious threats to the body that must be treated at the first signs of symptoms. They can cause a variety of chronic conditions that can, at the very least, affect quality of life. Some of the diseases, over time, will even lead to debilitation and death.