Our immune system is a well-organized system of internal organs and cells that keep the body safe. It repels harmful foreign cells, such as bacteria, from our bodies.
A malfunction of this system is called an autoimmune disease, meaning that the immune system starts targeting your own body. The autoantibodies it creates target your organs or cells, which causes damage or inflammation.
Keep reading if you want to know more about these diseases, their symptoms, and prevention.
Autoimmune Disease: Further Explanations and Statistics
Autoimmune diseases affect over 23 million people across the US. An unexpected thing about them is that they are more likely to affect people who live in developed areas than those who live in poverty.
One possible explanation for this is that people living in worse conditions build up a higher tolerance to germs and bacteria. They have more direct contact with these microorganisms, which means that their immune system can recognize threats more easily.
The number of autoimmune diseases is over 100, and there are many more diseases which are closely connected to the immune system. Although autoimmune disorders used to be rare, they seem to be on the rise. More people are affected than ever before.
Autoimmune Disease: Categories and Causes
The cause of most autoimmune diseases is not clear. However, in most cases, it seems to be linked to genetics. A person whose parents have an autoimmune disease is more likely to inherit it. Women are more prone to autoimmune diseases than men.
Sometimes, bacterial infections can cause the immune system to react in this harmful way (e.g. rheumatic fever). The T-cells (antibodies) go after your regular cells because they look like the microbes which caused the infection.
Autoimmune diseases can either localized or systemic. Localized ones directly damage only one tissue or organ. On the other hand, systemic autoimmune disorders do a great deal of damage across several organs.
However, the distinction can get complicated. The localized form of these diseases sometimes does indirect damage to other parts of the body after the primary target of the disease stops functioning correctly.
Antiphospholipid antibodies go after phospholipids, which constitute cell membranes. The results can be severe, as blood clots can form inside blood vessels.
Autoimmune Disease: Symptoms
Autoimmune diseases are often hard to notice and diagnose properly. Especially if they affect more than one organ, then the symptoms get difficult to tell apart. They can evolve and change with time, even becoming more dangerous.
When a doctor tries to make a diagnosis, the symptoms may be too vague and hard to decipher. However, these symptoms are usually connected to autoimmune diseases:
- Fever (low-grade)
- General discomfort and weakness
Usually, doctors perform various blood tests, looking for autoantibodies that may be the root of the problem. It depends on the disease they suspect is in question. Besides blood test, they check for inflammation, and they may test for CRP (C-reactive protein) or ESR (erythrocyte sedimentation rate).
Autoimmune disease symptoms are visible for a while and then they go away. Remission is when the symptoms are away for some time. An intense and unexpected return of the symptoms is called a flare.
Autoimmune Disease: Triggers in the Environment
According to the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIH), the environment can have an effect on the development of an autoimmune disease, meaning that various agents in the environment can damage our health. Here are some of them:
- Solvents – They can be found in many products, from paint thinners to nail polish. Exposure to them contributes to developing systemic sclerosis.
- Gluten – Can be found in grains such as wheat. Eating it contributes to developing celiac disease. This disease targets the small intestine, causing fatigue and severe diarrhea.
- L-tryptophan – It is an essential amino acid, which is present in supplements in the diet. This amino acid contributes to developing eosinophilia-myalgia syndrome, which is very dangerous, as it has no cure and it can even turn out to be fatal. Chronic muscle pain is the main symptom.
- Crystalline silica – It is a part of minerals such as granite and quartz. Exposure to such minerals leads to many autoimmune diseases, so construction workers should limit it as much as possible.
- Smoking – It can lead to rheumatoid arthritis.
Autoimmune Disease: Treatment
With autoimmune diseases, it is very important to work on the underlying causes one by one until they are all resolved. Treating an individual symptom isn’t going to cut it, and inflammation medicine is just a temporary solution. Some medication can even cause you more harm than good, considering that the side effects can include failure of kidneys, bleeding intestines, depression, and so on.
Using the anti-inflammatory drugs your doctor prescribes is a good place to start, but it isn’t enough long term.
Functional medicine is the answer. Find a doctor who will listen and address all the causes of the autoimmune disease.
How to Feel Better
You can help yourself and ease the inflammation on your own. Leading a healthy lifestyle is going to make a big difference. It is important to have a healthy, whole-food diet, and avoid any food which may cause an allergic reaction.
Additionally, take supplements (in moderation) such as fish oil, probiotics, vitamin D, and zinc. It is very important to exercise regularly. You can start jogging, hitting the gym, cycling, or whatever else works best for you.
Massage, acupuncture, yoga, and other relaxation techniques can help you reduce the inflammation significantly. Reducing stress and anxiety to a minimum and being well-rested is guaranteed to be beneficial.
Disease Be Gone
Autoimmune diseases are very tricky and hard to deal with. If you suspect you have any of the symptoms, visit your doctor for a checkup. Also, do your research on the history of the disease in your family, as these diseases are often inherited.
Anti-inflammatory drugs should only be used as a temporary solution. Your doctor should address the cause of your disease instead of giving you too much medication. Choosing a healthy lifestyle can make a significant difference.
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