Evidence based

Autoimmune diseases – causes, symptoms, diagnosis and more

Jul 15, 2019 |
8 min read

Advertisement

Autoimmune diseases are disorders that attack the body on its organs, tissues, and cells. The immune system suffers from abnormally low activity or over-activity. With an autoimmune disease, the body’s ability to fight disease and illness is hindered.

Therefore, the body is left vulnerable to infections. Autoimmune diseases represent a family of at least 80 illnesses. (1)

Many times, autoimmune system disorders are disabling. Autoimmune disease patients can suffer the loss of organ function and decreased productivity.

Advertisement

This severity of the autoimmune disease can lead patients to extensive care. Of autoimmune disease cases, over seventy percent of cases are women.

Introduction

Statistics claim that three to five percent of the general population suffer from an autoimmune disease. Many times, autoimmune diseases are classified to the specific organs and tissues targeted by the damaging immune response. (2)

Autoimmune disorders are an alteration in the normal homeostatic mechanisms that regulate the immune system. In other words, normal cells don’t recognize casual agents and begin to attack the body’s cells, tissues, and organs.

Except for autoimmune thyroiditis and rheumatoid arthritis, autoimmune diseases are relatively rare. These can be genetic or develop from unknown causes. Factors that can trigger the disease include infections and environmental factors.

The genetic variants involved in regulating T cell and B cell tolerance predispose to multiple autoimmune disorders. (3)

For instance, certain autoimmune diseases like type 1 diabetes and rheumatoid arthritis have common underlying mechanisms.

Common autoimmune diseases

In Western countries, autoimmune diseases affect approximately five percent of the population. (4)

Worldwide, one in 12 persons suffer from an autoimmune disease. Common types of autoimmune diseases include:

  • Diabetes mellitus type 1
  • Celiac disease
  • Graves disease
  • Inflammatory bowel disease
  • Psoriasis
  • Rheumatoid arthritis
  • Systemic lupus erythematosus

Animal research shows a connection between infections and autoimmune diseases like type I diabetes. (5)

Genetic predisposition, environmental factors, and immune dysregulation influence the development of autoimmune diseases. (6)

Some types of autoimmune disease are associated with movement disorders. For instance, streptococcus and autoimmune encephalopathies patients experience movement disorders. (7)

Autoimmune causes

With a healthy immune system, the immune system produces antibodies when exposed to a foreign agent. For instance, exposure to a bacteria or virus. The immune system antibodies have specific roles like killing a specific agent.

If the antibody fails with its first attempt and the foreign agent returns, the antibody’s natural response is a repeat attack on the foreign, or casual, agent. This reaction is how the immune system antibodies protect the body from illness and disease.

Research has connected genetics with these kind of diseases in three ways:

  • Autoimmune diseases run in families.
  • Ethnic populations influence diseases.
  • Genomic analysis and specific genetic mutations are standard in persons with various autoimmune diseases.

Research shows chromosomal is an underlying factor in the patterns of inheritance of a specific mutation, which can predispose a person to autoimmunity. For instance, one autoimmune disease in the family can influence the next generation to other specific autoimmune disorders.

Environment and lifestyle

There is much to learn about the link between environmental factors and autoimmune disease. However, research leads experts to believe that environmental factors may be of greater importance in the connection of autoimmunity and disease than initially thought.

For instance, research conducted by the Scripps Institute in Los Angeles concluded that environmental causes accounted for over 70 percent of all autoimmune diseases. The study found that three factors are responsible causes:

  • Toxic chemicals such as tobacco use
  • Infections
  • Dietary factors such as too much salt in the diet

Experts feel there may be a connection between some of these factors and antibodies unable to respond appropriately to protect the immune system.  In response, the body produces protective antibodies.

When the antibody fails to differentiate between the foreign agent and normal cells, the antibody can start to damage healthy tissues. As a result, the antibodies attack the tissues as foreign.

Autoimmune diseases connect with unhealthy diets and obesity. Therefore, a proper nutritional strategy is necessary. A low carb, ketogenic diet or basic paleo diet can help slow or reverse the progression of this type of disease.

Autoimmune disease and stress 

Retrospective studies show that up to 80 percent of patients with the disorder suffered abnormal emotional stress before the onset of the disease. Studies also conclude that unknown factors contribute to at least 50 percent of autoimmune disorders. (8)

Recent studies are researching the possible psychological stress, and stress-related hormones, in the pathogenesis of the disease. It is believed that cytokine production is altered or amplified, resulting in autoimmune disease.

Scientists have performed experiments of living cells to a change of environmental conditions. For instance, the increased growth temperature of living cells results in stress induction, or heat shock proteins.

Research shows the importance of the stress protein families’ role in the immune response to a variety of infections. These findings help conclude that there may be a possible link that they may be immune targets in autoreactive responses. (9)

Autoimmune symptoms

Symptoms will vary and depend on the type and severity of the autoimmune disease. Common autoimmune disease symptoms include:

  • Anxiety
  • Headaches
  • Brain fog
  • Attention deficit problems
  • Rosacea
  • Acne
  • Body rashes, red, flaking skin, red bumps on facial skin
  • Dermatitis
  • Psoriasis
  • Eczema
  • Asthma
  • Allergies
  • Frequent colds
  • Dry mouth
  • Thyroid issues
  • Weight gain or loss
  • Fatigue or hyperactivity
  • Feeling of malaise
  • Weakness or muscle pain
  • Joint pain and stiffness
  • Exhaustion
  • Feeling of “wired and tired”
  • Digestive tract troubles
  • Gas
  • Stomach cramping
  • Constipation
  • Diarrhea
  • Bloated stomach

Diagnosis

Diagnosing can be difficult. Misdiagnosis is not uncommon. Typically, the diagnosis will include:

  • Physical exam
  • Account of symptoms
  • Combination of blood tests
  • Patient medical history

Blood tests often include:

Auto-antibody tests

Auto-antibodies are simply antibodies that have failed in recognizing the casual-agent from the normal cells. As a result, the antibodies can attack the cells, tissues, and organs. With the auto-antibody tests, some autoimmune disorders are distinguished.

Inflammation and organ function tests

Certain autoimmune disorders can cause organ dysfunction. The inflammation and organ function tests help to determine if organs are functioning correctly.

Advertisement

Researchers are studying new gene identification strategies like whole-genome association studies. Researchers hope that these studies will reveal many additional genes that predispose to autoimmunity.

Because autoimmune diseases are difficult to diagnose, patients need to ensure the following:

  • Know and discuss your family medical history with your doctor.
  • Track your symptoms.
  • Discuss autoimmune disorder tests.
  • Consider a second opinion.
  • See a specialist.

Autoimmune disease treatment

With autoimmune disease treatment, immunosuppressant medications may be prescribed. Medications include anti-inflammatory drugs and suppressants of the immune system. Corticosteroids is a medication prescribed for the control of autoimmune disease systems.

Other medications prescribed are for the specific autoimmune disease. For example, biologic drugs are often used to treat inflammatory types of the disease. Inflammatory types of this disorder include arthritis and rheumatoid arthritis.

Immune therapy targets the pathophysiology of autoimmune disease. (10)

In about 10 percent of patients receiving antibiotic treatment, the treatment does not resolve the disease.

Biological agents are therapies designed to target a specific molecular component of the immune system.

Currently, biological agent therapies are used in the autoimmune digestive, rheumatic, dermatological, and systemic diseases.

However, the use of biological agent therapies links with the paradoxical development of autoimmune processes. (11)

In other words, biologics have induced autoimmune diseases like sarcoidosis and lupus.

Autoimmune disease diet

Diet is crucial. The reason for this is, is that the body starts to attack itself. A plant-based diet best describes an autoimmune disease diet. Experts claim a whole-food, plant-based diet makes the difference in helping the body to heal.

The journal Rheumatology released a 2001 study finding a vegan and a gluten-free diet can significantly improve rheumatoid arthritis signs and symptoms. Pain levels of AR patients have also shown to decrease with potassium intake.

Plant-based potassium foods include:

  • Spinach
  • Avocado
  • Bananas
  • Sweet Potato
  • Pomegranate

Specific vitamins and nutrients increase the body’s ability to balance immune response:

  • Fiber
  • Vitamin A
  • Beta carotene
  • Vitamins K and C
  • Potassium
  • Magnesium

Also important are probiotics to care for the gut. Probiotics are beneficial bacteria that are fermented foods and probiotic supplements. Feeding the probiotics in the stomach is also necessary for a healthy autoimmune diet. Fiber is the best choice in food to feed the probiotics.

Fiber foods probiotics love:

  • Garlic
  • Dandelion Greens
  • Asparagus
  • Onion
  • Leek
  • Apple
  • Jicama
  • Flaxseed
  • Burdock

Anti-inflammatory foods

  • Leafy greens
  • Mushrooms
  • Onions
  • Squash
  • Turnips and rutabaga

Spices are also useful in combating inflammation and boosting the body’s healthy immune response.

  • Cayenne pepper
  • Ginger
  • Cloves
  • Cinnamon
  • Garlic
  • Turmeric

Foods to avoid:

  • Gluten
  • Animal products
  • Sugar

>>Read More: What Does Sugar Do to Your Body?

Autoimmune disease lifestyle

Lifestyle changes may be required. Autoimmune lifestyles help patients to lessen the symptoms and difficulty of their disease.

Lifestyle changes include:

Healthy, well-balanced meals

Fruits, vegetables, fat-free or low-fat milk products, whole grain, lean sources of protein. Limit saturated fat, salt, trans fat, cholesterol, and added sugars.

Regular exercise

Regular physical activity is crucial; however, patients need to be careful not to “overdo” it. Discuss an exercise plan with your doctor.

Plenty of rest

Rest is essential as it is a time that allows your body tissues and joints to repair. Patients require seven to nine hours of daily/nightly sleep.

Reduce stress

Stress can lead to autoimmune disease and trigger symptoms. Patients that suffer stress are encouraged to join a support group or talk with a counselor. Relaxation techniques help to simplify the lives of patients.

These techniques help enable patients to better cope with daily stressors. Meditation, self-hypnosis, and guided imagery are all useful relaxation techniques to reduce stress.

Summary

With an autoimmune disease, the immune system has failed to fight dangerous organisms that have entered the body.

The immune system suffers abnormally low activity or overactivity; and, the body is left vulnerable to infections.

There are at least 80 various autoimmune diseases; some of which are fatal. With an autoimmune disease, healthy cells don’t recognize casual agents and begin to attack the body’s cells, tissues, and organs.

Autoimmune disorders are a result of various factors, including genetics, environmental factors, and lifestyle. Different techniques are used to diagnose autoimmune diseases, including a combination of blood tests, physical exam, patient medical history, and account of symptoms.

Diet and lifestyle are crucial to help the body’s defense system to help fight disease, lessen symptoms, and reverse the damage.

Advertisement

More stories: