WHAT ARE THEY?
These are a group of diseases which occur due to improper functioning of the body’s immune system. The immune system is responsible for fighting against foreign bodies and infectious agents that attack the human body by producing antibodies. Infrequently, this system starts producing autoantibodies that attack the body’s own cells and tissues. Hence, the word autoimmunity is used.
WHAT ARE THE COMMON AUTOIMMUNE DISEASES?
- Type 1 Diabetes Mellitus- Antibodies attack insulin secreting cells in the pancreas leading to hypoinsulinemia and raised glucose in blood.
- Rheumatoid Arthritis- In this disease, the autoimmunity happens against joints leading to joint swelling, pain and eventually joint damage.
- Multiple Sclerosis- Nerve cells are attacked by autoantibodies causing pain, weakness and muscle spasms.
- Systemic Lupus Erythematosus (SLE)- Autoantibodies are produced against a variety of healthy tissues like joints, nerves, kidneys causing multiple organ damage.
- Grave’s disease- Antibodies attack on thyroid gland to produce more thyroxine hormone causing hyperthyroidism.
- Sjogren’s syndrome- Antibodies attck on the lubricating glands of eyes and mouth causing dry eyes and mouth.
WHAT CAUSES AUTOIMMUNE DISEASE?
The cause is largely unknown. It is usually a combination of genetic and environmental factors. Certain infections like Epstein Barr virus (EBV), Mumps virus, Measles virus, Cytomegalovirus (CMV)and Coxsackie virus B4 are also known to cause autoimmune diseases. Stress is also a major contributing factor.
WHAT ARE THE SYMPTOMS?
Signs and symptoms vary according to the disease but in general patients suffer from :
- muscle aches
- low grade fever
- low concentration
- hair loss
- skin rashes
- joint pain
- abdominal pain
HOW TO DIAGNOSE AUTOIMMUNE DISEASES?
There is no single test but a battery of tests that are run to reach a final diagnosis in these cases.
- Complete Blood Count
- Urine examination
- Kidney function Tests
- Liver Function tests
- Anti Nuclear Antibodies
- Rheumatoid factor
- Coomb’s test
- Antiphospholipid antibodies
- Lupus anticoagulant test
and many more depending on the type of disease suspected.
HOW DO WE TREAT IT?
Treatment consists of pain relievers like NSAIDS, steroids and immunosuppressive therapy. These diseases cannot be cured permanently and the aim is to provide symptomatic relief.