Autoimmune Disease

What is autoimmune disease?

The role of the body’s immune system is to defend against invading bacteria, viruses, and other things that could pose harm to the body. There are two parts to the immune system: the acquired immune system and the innate immune system.  The acquired immune system builds immunity by remembering previous invaders in order to fight them off if they enter the body again. The acquired immune system develops more and more as people grow. The acquired immune system produces proteins called antibodies. These antibodies attach to invaders so that they can be seen and destroyed. The innate immune system does not use antibodies. The innate immune system activates white blood cells in order to destroy invaders. 
Autoimmune diseases affect the acquired immune system. Autoimmune responses cause the body’s immune cells and antibodies to mistake healthy cells and tissues for invaders and attack them. In an autoimmune disease, the immune system makes autoantibodies that accidentally attack normal cells. While this is going on, regulatory T cells fail to correct the misguided immune response and it turns into a full-blown attack against the body’s healthy tissues and/or organs. A key symptom in autoimmune diseases is inflammation
There are many different autoimmune diseases. These diseases affect all different parts of the body and can cause different varieties of symptoms. In a lot of cases, autoimmune diseases run in families. 
Some examples of common autoimmune diseases include: 
  • Grave’s disease
  • Hashimoto’s disease
  • Addison’s disease
  • Pernicious anemia 
Risk factors
  • Gender: certain autoimmune diseases tend to be more common in females
  • Family history: certain autoimmune diseases often run in families
  • Environmental factors: sunlight and chemical exposure, viruses, and bacteria may cause certain autoimmune diseases or make them worse.
  • Race/ethnicity: certain autoimmune diseases are more common in people of certain races or ethnic backgrounds. For example, type 1 diabetes is more common in white people.
A lot of autoimmune diseases have similar symptoms which can make diagnosis difficult. In addition, some autoimmune disease symptoms can be similar to other non-autoimmune diseases. 
When diagnosing an autoimmune disease your doctor will likely do a complete medical history and physical exam. They will take a close look at your family health history and any symptoms you may be having. It may be helpful to see a doctor that specializes in the most prominent symptom you are having. For example, if the main symptom you are dealing with affects your gastrointestinal tract, it may be beneficial to see a gastroenterologist. 
Some tests that can be done to see if someone is potentially suffering from an autoimmune disorder include:
  • Antinuclear antibody test (ANA): Antinuclear antibodies are autoantibodies that are made by the immune system when it mistakenly attacks the body’s healthy cells. This test is used to detect the presence of these autoantibodies in the blood. Other autoantibody tests may also be done when diagnosing an autoimmune disease. 
  • Immunoglobulin A (IgA) blood test: This is a blood test that looks at the amount of immunoglobulin A (IgA) in the blood. IgA is one of the most common antibodies in the body. The test is used to evaluate autoimmune conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, and celiac disease. Children who are born with low levels of this antibody are at risk for having an autoimmune disease. 
  • Complete blood count: This is a blood test that is done to look at the number of red blood cells, white blood cells, and platelets. When the immune system is attacking something, these numbers can vary from the norm. 
  • C-reactive protein (CRP) test: This is a blood test done to detect inflammation. CRP is a protein that is released into the blood by the liver when inflammation occurs. This test does not provide any sort of definitive diagnosis of an autoimmune condition but inflammation tends to be a prominent symptom in autoimmune disease. This test can also be done to see if treatment is working to reduce inflammation. 
  • Erythrocyte sedimentation rate (ESR): This is another blood test used to detect the presence of inflammation. It is usually done along with other tests because results can be elevated for other reasons besides just inflammation. 
  • Protein electrophoresis: This test is done to look for the presence of abnormal proteins in the blood and can be helpful when diagnosing an autoimmune disease. 
Autoimmune diseases have no cure. They are chronic conditions that tend to have flare-ups of symptoms. Treatment aims to control the disease process and relieve symptoms. Treatment may vary depending on what autoimmune disease one has. 
Some possible treatments for autoimmune diseases include:
  • Immunosuppressive medication
  • Hormone replacement therapy (if necessary)
  • Blood transfusions (if disease affects the blood)
  • Pain medication
  • Physical therapy
  • Anti-inflammatory medication
  • There are over 80 types of autoimmune diseases
  • Autoimmune diseases affect over 23.5 million Americans
  • Some autoimmune diseases are rare but others are very common
  • 75% of those affected by autoimmune disease are women
about autoimmune disease

  • "Autoimmune Disease List" American Autoimmune Related Diseases Association Inc. American Autoimmune, n.d. Web. 23 Aug. 2017.
  • “Antinuclear Antibody (ANA).” American Association for Clinical Chemistry. AACC, 22 Mar. 2017. Web. 23 Aug. 2017. 
  • “Blood Test: Immunoglobulin A (IgA).” The Nemours Foundation. KidsHealth, n.d. Web. 23 Aug. 2017. 
  • “C-Reactive Protein (CRP).” American Association for Clinical Chemistry. AACC, 22 Mar. 2017. Web. 23 Aug. 2017.
  • “Erythrocyte Sedimentation Rate (ESR).” American Association for Clinical Chemistry. AACC, 21 Mar. 2017. Web. 23 Aug. 2017.
  • “Protein Electrophoresis Immunofixation Electrophoresis.” American Association for Clinical Chemistry. AACC, 12 Aug. 2015. Web. 23 Aug. 2017.
  • “Autoimmune diseases.” Office on Women’s Health, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services., 28 Apr. 2017. Web. 23 Aug. 2017.
  • “Autoimmune Diseases.” U.S. National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health. MedlinePlus, n.d. Web. 23 Aug. 2017. 
  • “Autoimmune Disease.” Healthline Media. Healthline, n.d. Web. 23 Aug. 2017. 
  • “Understanding Autoimmune Diseases.” National Institutes of Health. National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases, Mar. 2016. Web. 23 Aug. 2017. 
  • “Definition of Autoimmunity.” Johns Hopkins Medicine Pathology. Johns Hopkins Medicine Pathology Autoimmune Disease Research Center, n.d. Web. 23 Aug. 2017.   


Chronic inflammation may be caused by a handful of diseases and conditions, including: asthma, rheumatoid arthritis, tuberculosis, and more. Environmental and lifestyle factors, such as excess weight, poor diet, stress, and lack of exercise, can also cause chronic inflammation. Chronic inflammation can cause daily ailments, which may interfere with your daily routine. To combat these complications, check out these 20 tips for chronic inflammation:
20 tips for chronic inflammation infographic


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