The immune system can be a difficult system to understand; however, if you think of it in terms like the army would use it is amazingly simple.
The immune system of our body is like the entire army that has highly specialized units (specialized cells and organs), whose mission is to protect the homeland, your body, from "foreign invaders"such as bacteria, viruses, parasites, and fungi. The army (immune system) defends its shores from "foreign invaders" from getting in to the body. When this fails, it must seek and destroy the invader. Usually, the highly specialized immune, T and B cells in the system are extremely effective along with other organs in annihilating the invader.
The secret to the success in this army is its communications network. Millions and millions of cells can organize and pass information back and forth in response to the site of the infection. Once immune cells receive the alarm that an invader is attacking, they become activated and begin to produce powerful chemicals. These chemical substances allow the cells to regulate their own growth and behavior, enlist other immune cells, and direct the new recruits to trouble spots. But sometimes somewhere along the way something goes terrible wrong; doctors aren't sure why this happens.
When something goes wrong, in the immune system, it is as if in the army, friendly fire has occurred and one of our own soldiers has hit another one of our soldiers (our body can't tell self from non-self). When this occurs the body makes auto-antibodies that attack normal cells by mistake. The specialized (regulatory) T cells fail to do their job and an attack on your own body occurs. This is what causes autoimmune disease and all the damage that goes along with it.
Varies parts of the body are affected depending on the type of autoimmune disease. There are between 80 to 100 autoimmune diseases/disorders.
How common are autoimmune diseases?
50 million individuals in the United States have some type of autoimmune disease. When considered collectively, these diseases are the leading cause of death and disability. Unfortunately, autoimmune diseases are increasing and most of these diseases have no cure. Getting a diagnosis can be a long stressful process. It usually takes 7 years before someone is diagnosed with an autoimmune disease.
What are symptoms of autoimmune Diseases?
Symptoms of autoimmune disease vary. In many autoimmune diseases, symptoms come and go. When they come it is called a "flare"; when they go it is called "remission". Some symptoms that are often seen are:
Extreme Fatigue - which is not relieved by rest. This is common with almost all autoimmune disorders.
Muscle and Joint Pain - This is common with most autoimmune disorders.
Muscle Weakness - Feeling weak, particularly in the muscles or lack of strength (such is in your hand grip). This is a common symptom
Swollen Glands - These can be anywhere in the body, but especially in the throat area, under the arms, and in the groin area.
Inflammation - When something is inflamed, especially when it is chronic please seek medical as soon as possible.
Susceptibility to Infections - Such as colds, bladder or ear infections, sore throat, sinus problems and yeast infections are common. People with with autoimmune diseases take a longer time to recover.
Sleep Disturbances - Difficulty falling asleep and/or waking frequently is a common experience of most people with an autoimmune disorders.
Weight Loss or Gain - Weight change in the 10 to 15 pound range, is often a sign of autoimmune diseases.
Low Blood Sugar - A sign of adrenal fatigue, common in many autoimmune disorders.
Blood Pressure Changes - Most people have low blood pressure, though some have high blood pressure. Feelings or dizziness or vertigo, fainting, palpitations and fluctuations in heart rate.
Allergies - Many people with autoimmune disorders have numerous extreme food, chemical and environmental allergies and sensitivities.
Digestive Problems - Abdominal pain, bloating, tenderness, heartburn, cramps, constipation, diarrhea and excessive gas (looks like you're three months pregnant) reflect a condition known as "leaky gut syndrome", common with many autoimmune diseases.
Memory Problems - Often known as "brain fog", is a common autoimmune disease symptom that appears in most conditions.
Re-Current Headaches - Can manifest as migraines or severe headaches in some people.
Low Grade Fevers - This is very common.
Re-Current Miscarriage - This is a common symptom in some autoimmune diseases.
If you are You are probably not experiencing some (hopefully not all) of these symptoms please see a knowledgeable health care professional.
Who gets autoimmune diseases?
Although autoimmune diseases can affect anyone at anytime during life, certain people are at greater risk. According to the US Women's Auto Immune Fact Sheet those at most risk are:
*Women of childbearing age — More women than men have autoimmune diseases, which often start during their childbearing years.
People with a family history — Some autoimmune diseases run in families, such as lupus and multiple sclerosis. It is also common for different types of autoimmune diseases to affect different members of a single family. Inheriting certain genes can make it more likely to get an autoimmune disease. But a combination of genes and other factors may trigger the disease to start.
People who are around certain things in the environment — Certain events or environmental exposures may cause some autoimmune diseases, or make them worse. Sunlight, chemicals called solvents, and viral and bacterial infections are linked to many autoimmune diseases.
People of certain races or ethnic backgrounds — Some autoimmune diseases are more common or more severely affect certain groups of people more than others. For instance, type 1 diabetes is more common in white people. Lupus is most severe for African-American and Hispanic people.
How do I find out if I have an autoimmune disease?
Write down your complete health history. Now is not the time to be shy and leave something out. Make certain it contains your extended family as well.
Record any symptoms you are having, even if they appear to be unrelated. Share these with a doctor.
See a specialist that is experienced in dealing with your most major symptom. For example, if you have joint pain see a rheumatologist. Your family doctor or internist can provide a referral.
If you don't feel your symptoms or you are being taken seriously, get a 2nd or even a 3rd opinion. It is important to be able to connect with your doctor. You don't want a doctor that is dismissive and says your problem is imaginary; if they do, find another doctor.