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Common Autoimmune Diseases and their Treatment

Autoimmune diseases

Common Autoimmune Diseases and their Treatment

Medically reviewed by Dr. Mavra Farrukh

Overview

Researchers believe sex chromosomes impact a person’s likelihood of developing an autoimmune disorder. Most commonly, the female sex is born with XX chromosomes (one X chromosome from each parent), and the male sex is born with XY chromosomes (an X from a female parent and a Y from a male parent). The X chromosome is significantly larger than the Y and is estimated to have over 100 times as many genes coded with protein instructions.

X chromosomes have a more significant number of immune-related and immune-regulatory genes. People born with two X chromosomes tend to have a more robust immune system and can more efficiently fight off viruses. However, a strong and swift immune system can be a double-edged sword. Having two X chromosomes increases the likelihood of mutation, leading to a greater risk of developing an autoimmune disease.

The way cells reduce the risk of genetic mutations is through X-inactivation. This process occurs purposefully, yet randomly, silencing unnecessary X chromosomes.

Autoimmune Diseases in Females

Women are more often prone to autoimmune diseases but less susceptible to infectious diseases than men. This higher prevalence is due to the X chromosome, which has many genes relating to the immune system. It is advantageous for women to have two X chromosomes, but the price is a greater tendency to develop autoimmunity. Research suggests that hormonal changes play a role in triggering the development of autoimmune disorders.

 Puberty, pregnancy, and menopause all affect hormone levels significantly. The female reproductive life cycle best demonstrates the relationship between hormones and multiple sclerosis Women are more likely to develop various sclerosis after puberty. Studies show increased cases in women post-puberty that are not reflected in men post-puberty.

During pregnancy, there seems to be a decrease in the symptoms and severity of MS due to the estrogen hormone estriol produced in the placenta. This hormone has anti-inflammatory properties, and pregnant people with MS experience a 70% reduction in relapses.

Clinical observations show that almost 50% of postmenopausal MS patients noted worsening symptoms. Postmenopausal patients on hormonal treatment saw an improvement in their symptoms.

Establishing the connection between autoimmune diseases and pregnancy is challenging without considering hormones. One theory explores what it means to keep a fetus alive. A fetus is a foreign entity with foreign antigens. The immune system seems to adapt so as not to reject the fetus. This adaptation may trigger the onset of an autoimmune disease.

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What are Autoimmune Disorders?

Autoimmune disorders are medical conditions in which the immune system attacks the body. They can be sporadic and cause complications occasionally, but most people who suffer from them experience symptoms more regularly. These disorders primarily affect women, and more is being understood about how sex, genetics, and hormones impact autoimmune disorders.

How Common are Autoimmune Disorders?

About 1 in 25 people worldwide are affected by an autoimmune disorder. While men often have more severe cases, women make up about 80% of autoimmune disease diagnoses. Common autoimmune disorders that affect more women than men include but are not limited to:

Multiple sclerosis

  • More commonly referred to as MS, this disease affects the central nervous system and disrupts the covering and protecting myelin sheath of the nerves, resulting in interference with signals in the brain.

Systemic lupus erythematosus (lupus)

  • Lupus is a condition that causes the body to attack itself. This inflammation can affect the joints, skin, kidneys, and other organs.

Rheumatoid arthritis

  • This condition happens when the immune system attacks the joint lining throughout the body. This leads to joints riddled with pain and stiffness, making mobility and everyday tasks difficult.

Psoriasis

  • Psoriasis occurs when a rapid production of skin cells causes a buildup. Red, scaly, inflamed patches of skin can characterize it. Psoriasis can also affect the joints.

Common Autoimmune Diseases

A healthy and intact immune system defends the human body against diseases and infections. But if the immune system malfunctions, it starts attacking healthy cells, tissues, and organs leading to autoimmune disease. These attacks can affect any Organ of the body, affecting and weakening bodily function and can even be fatal.

There are more than 80 autoimmune diseases known in general.

Common autoimmune diseases in women include:

  • Rheumatoid arthritis is arthritis that attacks the joints.
  • Psoriasis is a dermatological disease characterized by scaly and thick skin patches.
  • Psoriatic arthritis is arthritis affecting people with a skin condition known as psoriasis.
  • Lupus damages areas of the body that include skin, joints and organs.
  • Thyroid diseases, including Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, where it doesn’t cause enough (hypothyroidism) of the hormone and Graves (hyperthyroidism).
  • Type 1 diabetes is a medical condition in which the immune system destroys the insulin-producing cells in the pancreas.

These diseases usually result from interactions between environmental factors and genetics. Race, gender, and ethnicity characteristics are linked to the likelihood of developing an autoimmune disease. Autoimmune diseases are usually more common when people are in contact with specific environmental exposures.

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Who is at risk for Autoimmune Diseases?

Women develop several types of autoimmune diseases more often than the opposite gender. Having one autoimmune disease puts you at an increased risk of getting another. Experts don’t know what the causes of autoimmune disease are, but many theories suggest an overactive immune system attacking the human body after an illness or injury. The following risk symptoms increase the chances of autoimmune disorders:

Genetics

Certain diseases, like lupus and multiple sclerosis (MS), tend to run in families. Having a relative with an autoimmune illness enhances risk, but it doesn’t mean you will have it for sure. 

Weight

Obesity raises your risk of developing rheumatoid arthritis or psoriatic arthritis. This could be because more weight puts more strain on the joints or because fat tissue creates substances that encourage inflammation.

 Smoking

Research has linked smoking to several autoimmune disorders, like, rheumatoid arthritis, hyperthyroidism, lupus, and multiple sclerosis.

Certain medications

Blood pressure drugs or antibiotics can trigger drug-induced lupus, often a more benign form. Statins can trigger statin-induced myopathy.

Environmental factors

A family’s susceptibility to autoimmune diseases may be linked to shared environmental factors, perhaps working in conjunction with genetic factors.

Gender

Around three-quarters of people with autoimmune diseases are women.

Sex hormones

Autoimmune disorders turn to strike during the childbearing years. Some diseases seem to be affected, for better or worse, by significant hormonal changes such as pregnancy, childbirth, and menopause.

Infection

Some disorders seem to be triggered or get worsened by particular conditions.

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Symptoms of Autoimmune Diseases?

The early symptoms of many autoimmune disorders may include

  • Numbness of hands and feet
  • Hair loss
  • Fatigue
  • Achy muscles
  • Swelling and redness
  • Low-grade fever
  • Trouble concentrating
  • Autoimmune skin disorders
  • Alopecia 
  • Raynaud’s phenomenon 
  • General Anorexia 
  • Cough 
  • Ear involvement 
  • Eye involvement 
  • GI involvement 
  • Nasal symptoms
  • Nervous system involvement 
  • Respiratory involvement
  • Weight loss 
  • Other Adenopathy
  • Anemia 
  • Dysphagia
  • Swelling of hands

Individual diseases can also have specific autoimmune symptoms. Such as, type 1 diabetes causes extreme thirst, fatigue, and weight loss. IBD causes bloating, belly pain and diarrhea.

With autoimmune disorders like psoriasis or RA, symptoms may come and go. A period of symptoms is known as a flare-up. And a period when the symptoms go away is called remission.

  • Joint pain and swelling
  • Skin problems
  • Fatigue
  • Abdominal pain or digestive issues
  • Swollen glands
  • Recurring fever

Many women say it’s tough to get diagnosed. It’s not black or white. There’s no single test to diagnose autoimmune disorders. It’s not just one factor, and you must have specific symptoms combined with some blood markers or diagnostic tissue biopsy. 

Diagnosis can also be problematic because these symptoms can come from other common conditions. Women should go for treatment when they notice new symptoms.

Don’t downplay if you’ve been healthy and suddenly feel fatigued or have joint stiffness. 

Note: Symptoms like muscle aches, swelling, fatigue and redness could be signs of autoimmune disorders. Symptoms might come and go over time.

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Diagnosis of Autoimmune Diseases

Specialists often have a hard time diagnosing autoimmune diseases. There’s usually no specific test to show whether you have particular autoimmune disorders, as the symptoms can be confusing. That’s because many autoimmune diseases have the same symptoms. Some symptoms, like muscle aches, are common in many other illnesses. It can take a long time and a few visits to different types of specialists to get a diagnosis.

To assist your health care professional in finding out if an autoimmune disorder is causing your symptoms,

  • Learn about the health situation in your family history. What health problems did your aunts, grandparent, uncles, and cousins have? Note down what you learn and explain it to your doctor.
  • Maintain track of symptoms, including what makes them better or worse and how long they last 
  • Share the details with your healthcare provider.
  • See a specialist for your symptoms. For example, if you have an autoimmune rash with a positive ANA IFA screen, the clinician needs to diagnose the root cause of the positivity. This can be achieved through a reflex to an algorithm of certain antibody tests to help identify autoantibodies associated with specific autoimmune diseases. See a dermatologist (skin doctor).

Laboratory testing and clinical assessment

Laboratory testing and clinical assessment are compulsory for differential diagnosis and disease classification of autoimmune disorders.

The antinuclear antibody immunofluorescence assay (IFA) is a first-line screening checkup for patients with suspected autoimmune disorder symptoms. Because of its high subtlety compared to other assays, this test may be considered a gold standard.  Positive results may prompt clinicians to keep investigating the reason for a positive ANA IFA and tail off the field of potential culprits.

Clinical suspicion and correlation are generally necessary to proceed with additional testing for other certain antibodies beyond the algorithm of the most common rheumatic diseases.

A positive ANA result alone is not diagnostic of an autoimmune disorder. The prevalence of ANAs in healthy individuals is about 3-15%. The production of these autoantibodies is strongly age-dependent and increases to 10-37% in healthy persons over 65. Even healthy people with viral infections can have a positive ANA, albeit for a short time. Patients with infectious diseases may also test positive for ANA. These include viral infections (hepatitis C, parvovirus), bacterial infections (tuberculosis), and parasitic infections (schistosomiasis). Certain medications and some lymphomas may also cause a positive ANA.

An ANA IFA cascade with reflex to specific testing has clinical significance in the proper setting. A positive ANA IFA can show pre-clinical autoimmune disease, yet utilizing the ANA IFA cascade with reflex to thorough testing can lead to early diagnosis and treatment of potentially devastating diseases, putting some patients in remission. Test results should be interpreted in a clinical context that includes a history and physical, basic chemistry panel, imaging studies, and assessment of symptoms and signs of autoimmune disease.

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How are Autoimmune Diseases Treated?

Autoimmune disorders, in general, cannot be cured. Still, the condition can be controlled overactive immune response and bring down inflammation or at least reduce pain and inflammation autoimmune in many cases. Historically, treatments include

Anti-inflammatory drugs

Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) to reduce inflammation and pain, such as ibuprofen (Motrin, Advil) and naproxen (Naprosyn)

Corticosteroids

To reduce inflammation, they are sometimes used to treat acute flare of symptoms.

Pain-killing medication

Such as paracetamol and codeine.

Immune-suppressing drugs

Use to inhibit the activity of the immune system.

Treatment for the autoimmune deficiency

 example, insulin injections in the case of diabetes.

Physical therapy

Use to encourage mobility.

Surgery

 example, to treat bowel blockage in the case of Crohn’s disease.

High-dose immunosuppression

The use of immune system-suppressing drugs (in the doses needed to treat cancer or to prevent the rejection of transplanted organs) has been tried recently, with promising results. When intervention is early, the chance of a cure for some of these conditions seems possible.

Treatments are also available to relieve symptoms like pain, swelling, fatigue, and skin rashes.

Eating a well-balanced diet and regular exercise may also help you feel better.

Note: The primary autoimmune disease treatment is done with drugs that bring down inflammation and calm the overactive immune response. Treatments can also help relieve symptoms.

The treatment depends on the disease. In most cases, the goal of the cure is to slow down your immune system and ease redness, swelling, and pain from inflammation. For a few diseases, you may need treatment for the rest of your life.

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Autoimmune vs Immunocompromised

The immune response is how the human body recognizes and protects itself against pathogens such as fungi, bacteria, viruses, and substances that appear foreign. The system protects the body from harmful foreign substances and possible pathogens by recognizing them rightly. Immune system diseases occur due to defects in the system. Autoimmune disease and immunocompromised are two situations that happen due to defects in the immune system. An autoimmune disorder is because the immune system mistakenly attacks healthy cells in the human body. In contrast, immunocompromised is due to a weak immune system failing to respond to an infection or disease adequately. Thus, this is the crucial difference between autoimmune disease and immunocompromised.

Similarities

The following are some similarities:

  • Both situations depend on the activity of immune cells.
  • These conditions occur due to problems in the immune system.
  • They cause serious diseases.
  • They are treatable.
  • Both can be due to genetic mutations.

Differences

The following are the differences:

  • An autoimmune disorder is a condition that happens when the immune system badly attacks the healthy cells of the human body. 
  • An immunocompromised condition occurs when the immune system fails to respond adequately to an infection or disease.
  • An autoimmune disease is a condition that is due to a hyperactive immune system.
  • Immunocompromised is a condition that is due to an underactive immune system.
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Inflammatory Disorders

Inflammation is associated with a biological response to stimuli interpreted by the human body to have a potentially harmful effect. Inflammation is a healthy response to injury, infections or other medical conditions. For example, consider how the area gets warm and red around a splinter.

An inflammatory disease, however, is where the human immune system causes inflammation by mistakenly attacking human body cells or tissues. The human immune system can go wrong and cause inflammation in several ways.

In autoimmunity, our antibodies get directed against our cells, as in patients with rheumatoid arthritis and lupus. An example of a different way our immune system can attack our tissues is when you have an “autoinflammatory” disease. In that case, cells produce inflammatory chemicals without the involvement of antibodies. Gout, for example, is felt to be an autoinflammatory disease.

How to Prevent Autoimmune Disease?

There are no known cures for autoimmune disorders symptoms and there are no proven vaccines available to prevent them. However, there are ways you can minimize your risk of developing an autoimmune condition. 

Eat a balanced whole-food diet.

The best way to increase your nutrient intake and support your healthy gut is through eating a Mediterranean-style, whole-food diet, including gut-loving nutrients such as prebiotic fibers, probiotics and antioxidants. This will help the natural healing process in the gut.

Whole foods also contain nutrients that may relieve symptoms of autoimmune disorders. Zinc, antioxidants and anti-inflammatory nutrients, like omega-3 fatty acids, all contain properties that could support autoimmunity.

Explore food intolerances

Utilizing foods you are intolerant to can cause issues with digestion, including leaky gut and gut bacteria imbalances. It can increase the chances of an autoimmune flare-up for people with autoimmune conditions.

Common intolerances include dairy products, wheat, and fructose. 

Manage your stress levels

The function of stress in an autoimmune onset and flare-ups, handling stress levels is an essential step for both management and prevention. The more pressure you are under, the more critical it is to focus on stress management techniques.

There are many ways to handle stress, depending on what is best for you and your situation. Some ideas include meditation, yoga, tai chi, gentle walks, journaling, or starting a new hobby.

There is no authentic way to prevent an autoimmune disorder from developing. By taking small steps to support your body’s immune system, you can decrease your risk of autoimmunity. If you have already been diagnosed, you can use these steps to manage your symptoms and flare-ups in a way that complements your current management plan.

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When Should I See my Healthcare Provider?

Seek treatment when they notice new autoimmune disease symptoms. Don’t downplay if you’ve been healthy and suddenly feel fatigued or have joint stiffness. Telling your doctor helps them look closer at your symptoms and run tests to identify or rule out autoimmune diseases.

FAQs About Autoimmune Disease Answered By your Doctor Online Team

Do autoimmune diseases run in families?

Genes can be responsible for autoimmune disease, but other factors also come into play.
Autoimmune diseases tend to occur in the same family (the so-called “familial aggregation) .”Similarly, the concordance rate of a given autoimmune disease in identical twins (typically between 25% and 50%) is about ten times higher than that in fraternal twins (typically between 2% and 8%). These observations indicate that the patient’s genes strongly influence autoimmune diseases.

Are autoimmune diseases hereditary?

Genes can be responsible for autoimmune disease, but other factors also come into play. Genetics, environmental factors, and immune system changes cause it. Exposure of a person having a specific gene can lead to autoimmune disease. According to the conventional wisdom of geneticists, children with hereditary disorders have their parents to blame. But in an ironic twist of fate, a mother can contract an autoimmune disorder by reacting to the fetal cells from her child that remain in her body for years or even decades after the child is born. Having a family member with an AID disease increases your risk of having one as well. Also, when a family member has an Autoimmune disease, it not only makes you more likely to have the same disease but also increases your risk of having a different one.

Which autoimmune diseases cause hair loss?

Alopecia areata is an autoimmune disease when the human immune system attacks hair follicles and causes hair loss. Human hair follicles are the structures in the skin that form hair. You can lose hair from any body part of the human, alopecia areata mostly affects the head and face. Most people with the disease look healthy and carry no other symptoms.
There is no authentic cure for alopecia areata, but there are always treatments available that can help hair grow back more quickly.

Are autoimmune diseases fatal?

In most cases, autoimmune diseases are not fatal, and those living with an autoimmune disease can expect to live a regular lifespan.
Some autoimmune diseases can be fatal or lead to life-threatening complications, but these are rare autoimmune diseases.

Does diet play a role in the treatment of autoimmune diseases?

Dietitians can support an anti-inflammatory. The aim is to limit chronic inflammation symptoms and oxidative stress and promote a healthy human immune balance by having an antioxidant diet. Diets high in refined starches, sugar, saturated fats, and trans fats and low in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and omega-3 fatty acids appeared to turn on the inflammatory response.
However, a diet rich in whole foods, such as carbohydrates, fats, and protein sources, cools it down. There’s no harm in supporting a diet rich in whole plant foods as long as it includes fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts, and seeds. A diet rich in healthful fat sources such as extra-virgin olive oil, avocado, nuts, and fish; and includes moderate use of foods such as tea, dark chocolate, spices and herbs, and red wine.

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