What is an autoimmune disease?
An autoimmune disease is a pathological condition in which the immune system becomes the aggressor, attacking and destroying healthy body organs and tissues.
Normally, the immune system distinguishes the own from the strange and defends us from external agents such as viruses or bacteria. In autoimmune diseases, there is an exaggerated immune response that destroys healthy body organs and tissues. The immune system stops recognizing its own and generates a self-attack of the individual’s constituents, acting as if they were foreign agents.
The name or type of autoimmune disease will depend on the organ or system affected. When the loss of immune tolerance generates a specific damage, autoantibodies or autoimmune cells destroy only one cell type. This would be what occurs in the beta cells of the pancreas, in patients with type 1 diabetes mellitus. The attack can be general as it occurs in systemic lupus erythematosus where the clinical manifestations are multiple.
Are there triggers for an autoimmune disease?
There is a hereditary component (certain genetic combinations) and environmental factors that are triggers to finally activate the immune system. These are very varied and include: infections, drugs, vaccines or immunizations, diet, nutritional deficiencies, toxins such as tobacco or chemical agents, psychological factors, hygienic, socioeconomic, health habits, hormonal changes and climatic factors, among others.
Types of autoimmune diseases
Among the most common autoimmune diseases we have
1. Rheumatoid arthritis
In rheumatoid arthritis, the immune system mainly attacks healthy joints, which become inflamed, deformed, painful, and stiff.Pain and stiffness increase with rest and improve with movement, possibly because movement activates circulation to the area.
Stiffness and lack of mobility will promote muscle aches and tendonitis, which extend pain and further limit function.Rheumatoid arthritis is more common in women of mature age.It is also linked to diabetes, hypertension, depression, and anxiety.
2. Multiple sclerosis
In multiple sclerosis, the immune system mainly attacks myelin, which is a fat that coats the nerves to help them transmit nerve impulses correctly.As a consequence, the speed and rhythm of nerve conduction will be affected, giving rise to different symptoms depending on the parts of the nervous system most damaged.
3. Lupus erythematosus
The lupus erythematosus is a chronic disease that affects the immune system attacking different organs and tissues (joints, skin, lungs, brain, nervous system, etc.).
It can cause inflammation in the joints leading to limited mobility, stiffness and pain, which will spread to the muscles.
It is more common in women, especially of childbearing age.It mostly causes blisters after sun exposure or causes a skin rash that does not go away.
4. Sjogren’s syndrome
In Sjogren’s syndrome, the immune system attacks the exocrine glands, which are important for keeping certain organs lubricated.
Leukocyte excesses have been found around the glands of these patients.It predominates in women from the age of 50 and is sometimes associated with other autoimmune diseases, such as lupus or rheumatoid arthritis.
It is also often associated with fibromyalgia or chronic fatigue syndrome.The general condition of certain organs, such as the lungs and airways, kidneys and urinary tract, or blood vessels, which are also frequently inflamed (vasculitis), will need to be checked.
Medical treatment must be supervised by expert physicians in autoimmune treatment. It is very important that these patients know their disease very well and learn to detect flare-ups.