An autoimmune disease is a condition in which your immune system wrongly attacks your body. The immune system normally guards against germs like bacteria and viruses.
When it senses these foreign invaders, it sends out an army of fighter cells to attack them.
Typically, the immune system can tell the difference between foreign cells and normal healthy cells. With an autoimmune disease, the immune system mistakes part of your body, as foreign. It releases proteins called autoantibodies that attack healthy cells.
Some autoimmune diseases target only one organ. Other diseases, like systemic lupus erythematosus affect the whole body.
The immune system is exceedingly complex and years of research have shown us some of the ways it turns against us in autoimmune disease. But, for most autoimmune illnesses, the true cause is unknown and hard to pinpoint. The biggest general theory is that a person with a particular genetic makeup and background can make them more prone to environmental triggers (like toxins in the air) that can set off an autoimmune disease.
Some autoimmune diseases run in families, such as multiple sclerosis. It is also common for different types of autoimmune diseases to affect different members of a single-family. It all comes down to the genetic makeup and what genes you inherit. For the most part, we don't know the trigger or toxin and in people because it can change depending on the person. We also don't know why some people develop these conditions and others don't.
These gaps in research slow the development of effective treatments or preventive measures.
Currently, studies have shown that genetic predisposition accounts for approximately thirty percent of all autoimmune diseases. The rest is due to environmental factors, including chemicals, diet, and infections.
The autoimmune disease appears to be on the rise and researchers at the Center for Disease Control and Prevention are uncertain why.
Type 1 diabetes increased by 23% within a decade, and celiac disease, a condition where the body’s immune system attacks the small intestine, is also on the rise.
Some believe that factors such as climate change, pollution, population increase, chemically-processed foods environments, and extraordinary amounts of stress all lend a hand to the epidemic.
No single test can diagnose most autoimmune diseases. Your doctor may use a combination of tests and physical exams for a more accurate result, but even then, they can be hard to determine at first.
The antinuclear antibody test (ANA) is often one of the first tests that doctors use when symptoms suggest an autoimmune disease. A positive test means you may have one of these diseases, but it won’t confirm exactly which one or the severity of it.
There is no real treatment for autoimmune diseases, however, it is usually manageable with the right medical treatments depending on the disease. Treatment depends on the condition but most are treated with medications that alter the immune system hoping to slow it down.
The autoimmune diseases are so tricky, they are basically a mysterious set of conditions that vary in severity from annoying to life-threatening.
Research is ongoing and has progressed slowly. While therapies are available for most of these diseases, cures are typically not.
What’s needed most is better data documenting the frequency and location of autoimmune diseases in the population on a global scale. This will help us determine what the biggest causes and contributing factors are.
To be able to analyze a person's genes, assess how their immune system is behaving, and measure the number of normal cells to abnormal ones, would be groundbreaking.
It would allow researchers to put all of that information to devise a specific, personalized treatment regimen that's safe and effective. Since the disease differs greatly depending on the person, this appears to be the only way to effectively treat it.
While research has come a long way, we are not quite there yet, once we are, millions of lives will be saved annually.