Autoimmune diseases are conditions that cause the immune system to attack the body’s cells by mistaking them as foreign invaders. While some autoimmune diseases affect one specific organ, others target the entire body.
Types of Autoimmune Diseases
There are many types of autoimmune diseases, but some are considerably more prevalent. Common types include:
- Type 1 diabetes
- Rheumatoid arthritis (RA)
- Psoriasis or psoriatic arthritis
- Multiple sclerosis (MS)
- Inflammatory bowel disease (IBS)
- Celiac disease
- Graves’ disease
- Hashimoto’s thyroiditis
What Are the Causes of Autoimmune Diseases?
While the exact causes of these conditions are difficult to pinpoint, there are certain factors that put some individuals at a greater risk for developing autoimmune diseases. Because each disease is different, they do not all have the same causation or risk factors. Autoimmune diseases more commonly affect women and certain ones, like MS and lupus, can be genetic.
Symptoms of Autoimmune Diseases
The symptoms of each autoimmune disease will typically vary, but there are some signs to look out for particularly in early stages. These include:
- Swelling and redness
- Numbness or tingling in the hands and feet
- Hair loss
- Weight loss or gain
- Skin rashes
- Achy muscles
- Low-grade fever
- Trouble concentrating
This list is not exhaustive and does include the specific symptoms of many common autoimmune diseases. For example, IBS can illicit pain in the lower abdomen, bloating and diarrhea, while type 1 diabetes may cause extreme thirst and weight loss in addition to some of the symptoms listed above.
Diagnosing Autoimmune Diseases
If you suspect that you may have an autoimmune disease, seeing a healthcare professional is the best way to get a proper diagnosis. In some cases, a specialist such as rheumatologist, dermatologist, gastroenterologist or endocrinologist may be needed.
A common test that your healthcare provider may perform to diagnose an autoimmune disease is an antinuclear antibody test (ANA), but additional testing is often required to identify the condition.
How Are Autoimmune Diseases Treated?
While autoimmune diseases cannot be cured, the immune response can be controlled in order to reduce the body’s inflammatory response. The treatment for autoimmune diseases will vary based on the condition, but your doctor may prescribe:
- Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)
- Immunosuppressant drugs
- Symptom-relieving treatments for pain, swelling and rashes
- Diet and exercise recommendations
There are over 80 different autoimmune diseases, which is why getting a professional opinion can make all the difference. The specialists at Tampa General Hospital are trained in recognizing the signs of autoimmune diseases and can create a personalized treatment plan targeting a specific condition.