Autoimmune diseases are the general name of diseases that occur as a result of the wrong attack of the immune system. A healthy immune system protects the body against disease and infection. But if the immune system malfunctions, it mistakenly attacks healthy cells, tissues, and organs. This is exactly what autoimmune disease is. You can find more information below.
What is an autoimmune disease, what does it mean?
Autoimmune diseases are chronic inflammatory processes. About 5-8% of the world’s population is currently affected by about 80-100 different autoimmune diseases. It is the third most common disease group after cardiovascular and tumor diseases. However, a steady increase in incidence has been observed in recent years. A central causal role is malfunction in the immune system, which leads to a loss of tolerance to the body’s own tissue structures.
The immune system, which protects people from viruses, bacteria, parasites or other foreign substances, can no longer distinguish between “harmful” and “harmless” in autoimmune diseases. As a result, the immune system attacks healthy, endogenous tissue.
An untreated autoimmune disease can lead to the destruction of the affected organ due to severe inflammatory reactions and, in some cases, a severe course (with system involvement).
Therefore, early diagnosis and treatment are of great importance. It requires the participation of doctors from almost all disciplines, from general practitioners and general practitioners to specialists such as rheumatologists, nephrologists, neurologists, cardiologists, pediatricians and dermatologists.
What are autoimmune diseases?
The immune system either targets a specific organ (e.g. thyroid gland , pancreas, intestine, skin, nerves) and this is then counted as an organ-specific autoimmune disease or acts against the entire system and thus causes a systemic autoimmune disease that is not organ-specific .
Here are a few examples:
Organ-specific autoimmune diseases
Organ-specific autoimmune disorders include:
- Multipl sclerosis
- type 1 diabetes
- ulcerative colitis
- pemphigus vulgaris
- Myasthenia gravis
- Graves’ disease
Systemic autoimmune diseases
These diseases, also known as inflammatory rheumatic diseases, are:
- rheumatoid arthritis
- Butterfly (lupus) disease
- Sjogren’s syndrome
- Antiphospholipid syndrome
What causes autoimmune diseases?
The causes of autoimmune diseases are diverse and complex. An autoimmune disease can only be triggered by the interaction of several factors. It is based on a disruption in the immunological balance, which always maintains its normal course.
Autoimmune disease causes include:
- A normal body substance is altered, for example, by a virus, a drug, sunlight or radiation. The modified substance may be perceived as foreign by the immune system. For example, a virus can infect and replace a body cell. The infected cell alerts the immune system to attack.
- A foreign substance that looks like something natural can invade the body. The immune system can mistakenly attack not only foreigners, but also substances similar to the body itself. For example, bacteria that cause a sore throat may have an antigen on heart cells. In rare cases, a person’s immune system attacks the heart after a sore throat and autoimmune disease occurs. (this reaction is part of rheumatic fever).
- Antibody production control cells: For example, B cells (a type of white blood cell) can malfunction and produce abnormal antibodies that attack certain cells of the body.
- An endogenous substance that normally only forms in a certain area (and thus inaccessible to the immune system) enters the bloodstream. For example, by striking the eyeball fluid can enter the bloodstream. The liquid stimulates the immune system to recognize and attack the eye as foreign.
We don’t yet know why something triggers an autoimmune disease in one person but not another. However, genetic factors sometimes play an important role. Some individuals have genes that make them more susceptible to the development of autoimmune disease.
The increased susceptibility that causes autoimmune reactions is inherited, not the disease itself. In susceptible individuals, it can cause the disease to develop by a trigger (for example, viral infection or tissue damage).
Many types of this disease are more common in women.
What are the symptoms of autoimmune disease?
The symptoms of people with autoimmune disease mainly depend on which organs attack the immune system.
Examples of possible symptoms include:
- Stomach ache
- blood in stool
- blood in the urine
- chronic pain
- joint pains
- dry mouth
- itchy body
- muscle pain
- kidney pain
- skin rash
- dry eye
How are autoimmune diseases diagnosed?
These types of disease are usually recognized through a doctor’s examination and blood test .
Blood tests can show an existing inflammation and therefore indicate an autoimmune disease. Such investigations include:
- Blood clotting rate: This study measures how quickly red blood cells (erythrocytes) settle at the bottom of a test tube. This condition is often elevated in inflammation because the proteins produced in response to inflammation affect the ability of the red blood cell to float in the blood.
- Great blood count : This test determines the number of red blood cells in the blood. This number is often reduced ( anemia ) because fewer red blood cells are produced due to inflammation.
Because there are many causes of inflammation in the case of autoimmune disease (many of which are not autoimmune), doctors often do blood tests to detect various antibodies that may be present in a particular type of this disease.
But even these antibodies sometimes occur in individuals without autoimmune diseases. For this reason, doctors typically use a series of tests to diagnose an autoimmune disease and also evaluate the symptoms that occur.
Some of the other diagnostic and testing methods are listed below:
- Can testi
- Hemoccult testi
- Lung function test
- neurological examination
- stool test
How are autoimmune diseases treated?
Several autoimmune diseases are treated with special medications. For example, Hashimoto’s disease is treated with thyroid hormones to compensate for the lack of thyroid hormones .
The primary goal of treatment is to alleviate symptoms or the course of the disease. Immunosuppressants are used for this purpose, which suppress the activity of the immune system .
However, this alleviates not only excessive immune reactions, but also the defense function, which is very important for the body, thereby increasing the risk of infection. There are also many side effects that can go as far as organ damage.
In severe and threatening cases, treatment with this approach may be required. It can undoubtedly be a great success if the physical symptoms of illness, i.e. the organic signs of an underlying disorder, no longer appear.
Commonly used drugs:
- Different doses of cortisone , especially for acute therapy, sometimes for long-term therapy
- Immunosuppressive drugs as basic therapy
- biologic drugs
Which doctor treats autoimmune diseases?
Depending on the organ or organ system involved, autoimmune diseases are treated by different specialists. This primarily includes rheumatologists , but also internists , dermatologists , endocrinologists , and neurologists .
In addition, interdisciplinary collaboration may and should be necessary, depending on the complexity of the clinical picture.
Ideally, specialist treatment is generally supported by the comprehensive care of a holistically oriented therapist who tailors a treatment to the individual concerned.
Because conventional medical treatment is mainly symptomatic and often ignores the medical history of the person concerned, regardless of which specialist performs it.
Proper nutrition in autoimmune diseases
For many patients with autoimmune disease, nutrition has not just a culinary sense, but above all a therapeutic one.
Numerous studies show that if certain foods are avoided and others are preferred, it can directly affect the course of an autoimmune disease.
On the one hand, it is important to provide the body with an adequate amount of all important nutrients, and on the other hand, to consciously eat an anti-inflammatory diet.
An anti-inflammatory diet aims to completely deprive the body of autoimmune inflammatory processes.
The positive effects are usually noticeable only a few weeks after the change in diet, and the symptoms of acute inflammation are reduced, the pain is less. You should follow your doctor about reducing the dose of the drug or even stopping it completely.
For this, it is important to prefer to eat foods that, due to their components, have an inflammatory effect and an inhibitory effect on inflammatory processes.
Accordingly, for example, an anti-inflammatory diet should be rich in plant antioxidants and healthy omega-3 fatty acids.