What Are Autoimmune Diseases


The immune system serves as your body's first line of defense against potentially harmful foreign substances like bacteria, viruses, and cancer cells.1 Think of your body as a fortress that is being protected by soldiers (white blood cells).2 These troops defend the castle from invaders and other threats. Imagine as well that these soldiers (white blood cells) make a U-turn and begin to battle the occupants (healthy tissues) of the castle, causing internal anarchy to break out.

We will talk about what autoimmune diseases are, their causes, symptoms, management, and potential treatments in this article. We will also go over how common autoimmune diseases are, and the risks involved. 

What are Autoimmune diseases? 

Normally, the immune system defends the body against invaders by sending white blood cells to engage and annihilate invaders. Autoimmune diseases are also known as autoimmune disorders. When the immune system overreacts, it mistakes body tissues and parts for foreign invaders, leading to the development of this disease.

The Immune Association estimates that there are approximately over 100 different diseases that can result from autoimmune disorders.3 A few examples are type 1 diabetes, lupus, celiac disease, rheumatoid arthritis, and Crohn's disease.4 5 6 7 8 Many people have various reactions to auto-immune disorders; in some, these reactions can be mild while in others, they can be severe.

Environment, genetics, and personal health determine how severe or mild the symptoms might be.9 The autoimmune disorder could result in joint pain, fatigue, headache, abdominal pain, nausea, swelling, and many more. 

Causes of autoimmune diseases.

Although the exact causes of autoimmune disorders are still unknown, a person's genes, together with their health and exposure to the environment, have a significant impact on how they manifest.

Due to a lack of information, it is still unknown what triggers the immune system to misfire or mistakenly target body cells. A 2014 study found that, compared to men, women have a higher prevalence of autoimmune diseases (6.4% for women vs. 2.7% for men).10

There are risk factors that could cause autoimmune disease namely:

  • Genetics 
  • Smoking 
  • Vital infections 
  • Being female 
  • Obesity 
  • Diet 
  • Environmental exposure to toxic chemicals 
  • Low levels of Vitamin D11

Signs and symptoms of autoimmune diseases 

As you are aware, autoimmune disorders can lead to a variety of diseases, each of which has a unique set of symptoms depending on which area of the body is affected. Below are a few diseases and their symptoms: 

The disease of the large intestine and rectum, examples are: 
Ulcerative colitis 
Crohn's disease
Diarrhea Fatigue Abdominal painNausea Anemia (reduced number of red blood cells)Mucus, pus, or blood in the bowel Weight loss Inability to defecate 
The disease of the heart 
Coronary heart disease Valve disease
Fatigue Chest pain Dizziness FaintingAbnormal heart rhythm Diarrhea Shortness of breath Swelling of the leg
The disease of the lungs 
Sarcoidosis disease Pulmonary fibrosis diseases
Difficulty in breathing Dry cough Chest pain Fatigue FeverShortness of breath Heartbeat troubles 
The disease of the skin 
Inflammation Dry and tight skin Itching Rashes Hair loss Patches on the skin lose colour. 
The disease of the kidney, examples are:
Chronic kidney disease 
Urinary tract infections
Blood in urine Swelling in your arm and feet High blood pressure Foamy urine Joint pain Pelvic pain in women Rectal pain in menNausea
The disease of the nervous system, examples are:
Parkinson's disease 
Alzheimer's disease
Dizziness Confusion Blurry vision Poor judgementSlowed movement Rigidity or stiffness Migraines Anxiety and depression
The disease of the bone marrow and blood(VEXAS), examples are: Fever Low blood cell counts Inflammation of the lungs, skin, blood vessels, and cartilage.Pain and swelling of joints, nose, and ear. FatigueFever
The disease of the small intestine, examples are: 
Celiac disease 
Peptic Ulcer
Anaemia Diarrhoea Constipation Heartburn Fatigue Nausea
The disease of the thyroid examples are: 
Graves' disease 
Hashimoto's disease/ Hashimoto Thyroiditis
Swelling around the eyes Bulging eyes Redness of eyes Erectile dysfunctionJoint painFatigue Anxiety Bulging of thyroid Sudden weight loss

Management and treatment for autoimmune diseases 

Many autoimmune diseases require different treatments. There are a few probable treatments for autoimmune disorders, even though there is no permanent cure. These treatments do not cure but simply lessen or manage the immune system's overactivity.

Most of the time, the purpose of the treatment is to weaken your immune system, reduce inflammation, relieve joint pain or bodily pain, and support your body's ability to fight off the disease. Your doctor might suggest one of the following therapies:

  • Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) - reduce inflammation and pain12
  • Immune-suppressing drugs - lessen the immune system's heightened activity.13 Keep in mind that prolonged use of these medications can result in cancer or certain dangerous infections
  • Corticosteroids - are used to treat arthritis, lupus, psoriasis, or some kind of cancer14
  • Surgery - to treat blockage of the bowel
  • Blood transfusion - if your blood is affected, a blood transfusion may be advised by the doctor15
  • Costimulatory blockade - used to treat the thymus (T cells), which produces lymphocytes, a type of white blood cell that defends the body from illnesses16
  • Regulatory T cell argumentation - is used to increase the number of regulatory T cells. The aim is to restore the balance of the immune system to be able to fight back against diseases
  • Antigen-induced tolerance - this therapy discovers self-antigens that autoimmune disorders target17 To better promote self-tolerance, the self-antigens can be altered
  • Manipulating the interleukin-2 pathway 
  • Using the gut microbiota to regulate immune responses
  • Tumour Necrosis factor blockers(TNF) and Interleukin inhibitors 
  • Insulin injection 
  • Physical therapy- physical activity can aid in the treatment of autoimmune disease. Before working out, speak with your healthcare provider. You can get advice on the appropriate form of exercise from your healthcare provider

However, the majority of these treatments are still being researched because they have not yet been perfected but will be soon thanks to some new medical breakthroughs and discoveries.


How are autoimmune diseases diagnosed? 

Because the symptoms of different autoimmune diseases can occasionally resemble one another, doctors frequently struggle to make a specific diagnosis. For instance, pain and fatigue are common autoimmune disease symptoms in many autoimmune conditions. Hence, it can be difficult to identify an autoimmune condition with precision.

There are no specific tests available to determine whether you have a particular autoimmune illness, but the following techniques may be used to diagnose an autoimmune disorder:

  • X-rays
  • Biopsy
  • Blood test - complete body count (CBC), Antinuclear antibody test (ANA), and Erythrocyte sedimentation rate (ESR)
  • Core active protein (CRP)

Your healthcare provider may also identify autoimmune illnesses if you perform the following actions independently before your scheduled visit with them:

  • Have a record of your family's medical history
  • Keep track of lists of every autoimmune disease symptom you might be having, so you can show them to your doctor
  • Lastly, note down how long you had these autoimmune disease symptoms

By doing all of these, the healthcare professional will be better able to identify the sort of autoimmune disease you have and provide you with treatment options.

How can I prevent autoimmune diseases?

There is no guaranteed method to ward off autoimmune disorder, however, experts advise trying the following:

  • Stay away from cigarettes 
  • Exercise regularly
  • Reduce exposure to toxic or harmful chemicals
  • Reduce or remove processed foods from your diet 

Also, you can talk to your healthcare provider about specific ways to reduce your risk of autoimmune disorders.

Who is at risk of autoimmune diseases?

Women are more prone to autoimmune disease, especially during periods of intense stress, such as pregnancy, or during hormonal change (puberty or menopause). A study found that women are twice as likely as men to suffer from autoimmune diseases.18

Women are at far higher risk than men due to the enormous amount of genes that originate from the X chromosome.19 If you have one autoimmune disorder as a woman, you are more likely to have another.

If autoimmune disorders are prevalent in your family's medical history, you are therefore more likely to be affected. If you have the genes for these diseases, exposure to specific chemicals and viruses may also cause these diseases to manifest. 

How common are autoimmune diseases?

Everyone can get autoimmune diseases, although some people are more susceptible than others. Women who are of childbearing age frequently have this illness. There are some races or ethnic backgrounds where this condition is also prevalent. Lupus and rheumatoid arthritis, for instance, are widespread amongst African Americans and Hispanics, although type 1 diabetes is more prevalent amongst white people.

A study estimates that over 4 million people, or 6% of the UK population, suffer from autoimmune illnesses.20

Are autoimmune diseases fatal?

Your life may become intolerably difficult as a result of autoimmune diseases, which also shorten life spans. There are a select number of autoimmune diseases that can be fatal, even though most do not.

Sjogren's syndrome, systemic lupus erythematosus, and other systemic autoimmune diseases (SAIDs) are more prevalent in women and develop worse with age.21 22 23 One of the main causes of death and disability is these systemic diseases. Also, according to a study, autoimmune diseases are the 10th most common cause of death in developing countries.24

Are autoimmune diseases contagious?

Autoimmune diseases are not contagious. According to scientists, specific genes play a vital role.9 Also, you run the chance of developing these diseases if this disorder is prevalent in your family's medical history.

What are the common autoimmune diseases 

Earlier in this article, it was highlighted that there are well over 100 known autoimmune diseases but there are common ones among them and they include the following:

  • Rheumatoid arthritis 
  • Psoriatic arthritis 
  • Lupus 
  • Ulcerative colitis 
  • Crohn's disease 
  • Grave's disease 
  • Cardiovascular disease
  • Ulcerative colitis
  • Addison's disease 
  • Psoriasis 
  • Multiple sclerosis(MS)
  • Type 1 diabetes 
  • Vasculitis 


Typically, your immune system is built to find bacteria or other foreign invaders that aren't natural to you. The immune system defends the body and fights these foreign bodies after discovering and identifying them. When the immune system is overactive, it might start to battle and kill body cells. This behaviour may be caused by a variety of factors, including your genes, viral infections, or exposure to harmful substances.

Autoimmune disease symptoms vary depending on which area of the body is afflicted, although certain autoimmune disease symptoms are similar to one another. For instance, symptoms of lupus like fatigue, discomfort, weakness, and fever are typical of other autoimmune diseases. 

Although there is no guaranteed strategy to prevent autoimmune diseases, experts advise moderate exercise, abstaining from tobacco use, or limiting exposure to hazardous substances. Autoimmune disorders are not contagious, but if your family has a history of the condition, you could get one in the future.


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This content is purely informational and isn’t medical guidance. It shouldn’t replace professional medical counsel. Always consult your physician regarding treatment risks and benefits. See our editorial standards for more details.

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Oluwasola Samuel

Bs.c, Economics, Osun state University

Hello, I'm Oluwasola Samuel,a medical writer. Aside from that, I work as an Insurance Sales Associate. My work in the insurance industry has made me more aware of the careless and dismissive attitudes that some people have toward health issues.
As a health advocate and writer, I use thoroughly researched data to help my audience make informed health decisions that will enhance their quality of life.
I am creative and have strong research, communication, time management, and qualitative abilities. All of these assist me in creating excellent health content that not only connects with my audience but also captivates them and establishes effective communication.

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