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What Are the Signs of Autoimmune Disease?

R. Bargar
R. Bargar

There are more than 80 different autoimmune disorders, and patients suffering from an autoimmune disease can display a wide range of signs and symptoms. Although each disease has different symptoms, a common core group — sometimes called the "super symptoms" — affects most people with these disorders. Fatigue, aching muscles and joints, and a low-grade fever are some of the first signs of autoimmune disease. Unexplained weight loss, frequent infections, and concentration or memory problems are also often seen. These common symptoms might seem unconnected, but an autoimmune disease frequently affects many different interrelated functions in the body.

Autoimmune disorders are all characterized by a malfunctioning of the body's immune response, which has lost the ability to distinguish between a pathogen or abnormal cell and the body's own tissues. Signs of autoimmune disease are indications of the inflammation and damage caused when the immune system attacks healthy cells, tissues and organs. One of the most common signs is a general feeling of malaise accompanied by fatigue. Patients suffering from many of the autoimmune disorders frequently experience extreme fatigue not remedied by rest.


A greater incidence of infection is another of the signs of autoimmune disease. Those with autoimmune diseases often suffer from an unusual number of infections with a slow recovery time. Bacterial, viral and fungal conditions can affect any area of the body. When the immune response isn't working correctly, these pathogens take hold. Frequent urinary tract, respiratory or other infections might be a signal that the immune system is not functioning correctly.

Specific autoimmune diseases are grouped according to the target of their attack. The primary damage may occur to the cardiovascular system, the lungs or the nerves and brain and have symptoms specific that that body system. Other autoimmune diseases target the digestive system, muscles and joints. As all body systems are interconnected, damage to one might lead to the declining function of others. This is thought to be the reason for the common “super symptoms” characteristic of all autoimmune diseases.

Just as the symptoms differ based on the specific autoimmune disorder a patient has, an individual can also experience varying symptoms. All of the “super symptoms” might not be apparent in one patient, but they are the most frequently found among autoimmune disease patients in general. The severity of symptoms can change over the course of the disease. Some patients have long periods of near-normal health followed by a reappearance of symptoms, while others might have steadily worsening symptoms. It is also not unusual for people to suffer from more than one autoimmune disorder, further complicating the manifestation of signs of autoimmune disease.

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