Autoimmune disorders are conditions where the immune system mistakenly attacks the body’s own healthy cells and tissues. This can lead to inflammation and damage to various parts of the body. Autoimmune disorders are quite common, affecting around 5-10% of the population.
Some of the most well-known autoimmune disorders include rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, type 1 diabetes, multiple sclerosis, etc. In this article, we will understand what are autoimmune disorders, how they affect the body, and prevention strategies, and answer some frequently asked questions related to these conditions.
What Are Autoimmune Disorders?
Our immune system is designed to protect us from foreign invaders like bacteria, viruses, and other pathogens. It can differentiate between the body’s own healthy cells and harmful external substances.
But in some cases, the immune system malfunctions and mistakenly recognizes the body’s own tissues and cells as foreign. This triggers an immune response leading to inflammation and damage.
Some common examples of autoimmune disorders include:
- Rheumatoid Arthritis: The immune system attacks the joints leading to inflammation and joint damage.
- Lupus: It causes inflammation in various body tissues like skin, joints, kidneys, etc.
- Type 1 Diabetes: The immune system destroys insulin-producing cells in the pancreas.
- Multiple Sclerosis: Nerve fibers of the central nervous system are damaged.
- Graves’ disease: The immune system attacks the thyroid gland leading to overactivity.
- Inflammatory Bowel Disease: The digestive tract gets inflamed and damaged.
The exact cause behind why the immune system becomes overactive in autoimmune disorders is not fully understood. However, researchers believe a combination of genetic and environmental factors are responsible. Things like family history, infections, gut health, and stress can increase susceptibility.
How Autoimmune Disorders Affect Your Body?
The symptoms and organs affected depend on the specific autoimmune condition. But some common effects on the body include:
- Inflammation: Many tissues like joints, skin, kidneys, digestive tract, etc. can become inflamed as the immune system attacks them. This inflammation can result in redness, swelling, pain, and damage.
- Tissue destruction: Chronic inflammation and autoantibodies produced by the immune system can damage organs and tissues over time. For example, in type 1 diabetes the insulin-producing beta cells of the pancreas are destroyed.
- Pain and fatigue: Widespread inflammation often leads to joint pains, muscle aches, and severe tiredness. Most autoimmune disorders have fatigue as a major symptom.
- Organ dysfunction: Critical organs like the kidneys, liver, thyroid gland, pancreas, etc. can have their functions impaired when the immune system targets and damages them.
- Abnormal growths: Some autoimmune conditions promote abnormal growth of cells. For example, in Graves’ disease, excess thyroid hormone causes the appearance of bulging eyes.
Prevention Of Autoimmune Disorders
While a cure for autoimmune diseases remains elusive, some measures to potentially prevent them include:
- Eat anti-inflammatory foods: Include more plant foods like fruits, vegetables, whole grains, healthy fats, and omega-3s that help reduce inflammation. Avoid processed and sugary foods.
- Manage stress: Chronic stress can over-activate the immune system. Try anxiety reduction techniques like meditation, yoga, deep breathing, etc.
- Exercise regularly: Moderate activity helps improve overall immune function and health.
- Get good sleep: Lack of sleep disturbs immunity. Aim for 7-8 hours of quality sleep daily.
- Quit smoking: Smoking worsens inflammation and autoimmunity.
- Supplements: Some supplements like vitamin D, probiotics, turmeric, etc. may help regulate the immune system. But consult a doctor first.
- Avoid infections: Prevent infections through good hygiene as they can sometimes trigger autoimmune reactions.
- Limit alcohol: Excess alcohol increases inflammation. Moderation is key.
Autoimmune disorders arise when the body’s natural defense system turns against itself and starts damaging healthy cells and tissues. This can lead to inflammation, pain, and organ dysfunction.
While the exact trigger is unclear, a combination of genetic and environmental factors are involved. Making lifestyle changes like eating healthy, exercising, quitting smoking, and managing stress can help prevent autoimmune conditions. More research is still needed to find a permanent cure for these complex diseases.
Most autoimmune disorders cannot be completely cured. However, with early diagnosis and proper treatment, their symptoms and progression can be managed to improve quality of life. Treatment focuses on controlling the overactive immune system response and limiting organ damage.
Flare-ups in autoimmune diseases occur when the immune system suddenly becomes overactive after a period of inactivity or controlled activity. Flare-ups can be caused by various triggers like infections, stress, hormonal changes, or even exposure to certain foods/chemicals that activate the immune system.
There are around 80-100 known autoimmune diseases. Some common examples are rheumatoid arthritis, type 1 diabetes, multiple sclerosis, celiac disease, Crohn’s disease, etc. Researchers are still discovering new autoimmune conditions.
Yes, psoriasis is an autoimmune disease. It occurs when the immune system sends faulty signals that accelerate the growth cycle of skin cells causing raised, red, scaly patches on the skin. It typically affects the scalp, elbows, and knees but can appear anywhere.
Most autoimmune conditions develop gradually over weeks or months. But in some cases, symptoms of an autoimmune disorder can begin suddenly and severely seemingly out of the blue. This is more common with conditions like Guillain-Barre syndrome and multiple sclerosis which can flare up suddenly. However, the immune system dysfunction develops slowly over time behind the scenes.