Autoimmune diseases: what are they and what do they do?

The term autoimmune is one that is becoming increasingly familiar in our modern lexicon. But what exactly is it and where does it come from? And is it a term that only applies to one disease or is there lots that can be described in this category?

The short answer is that an autoimmune disease is one where the body’s immune system, which is there to keep out diseases and pathogens, goes haywire and starts to attack the healthy cells in the body. There are many diseases or conditions that can fall into the autoimmune category. Here are some of the most common.

Multiple Sclerosis

This is a condition of which people have become increasingly aware in recent times. Brought to public attention by celebrities who suffer from it like Selma Blair and Jack Osbourne, the MS disease was also featured in television series The West Wing where a subplot was written onto the story where the US President suffered from the condition.

MS is when the sheath that surrounds the nerves is attacked. It leads to a range of issues including balance problems, memory issues, lack of peripheral sensitivity and issues with things like chest infections and eyesight issues. It is not curable, but it is not fatal.

Rheumatoid arthritis

A horribly debilitating condition that results in the inflammation of joints. The inflammation can lead to severe pain and mobility issues.   Typically, RA will affect the multiple joints in the hands and feet first, but that is only the beginning. It can spread to any and all joints.

Lupus

Popularised in the hit television series House, Lupus is a condition where the immune system becomes hyperactive and starts attacking healthy cells in multiple places in the body.

The blood and the kidneys are commonly affected but it can also impact the lungs and joints. There is no cure for Lupus, rather it is managed by changes to lifestyle.

Coeliac disease

Almost everyone will know a person who prefers not to eat Gluten. Gluten is a protein found in wheat and rye and it is an adverse reaction to his protein that leads to Coeliac disease.

There is no cure to the disease, but it is managed by eliminating the offensive gluten from a person’s diet. This can be difficult to do due to the prevalence of gluten in so many items consumed daily, but it can be done with remarkably positive results.

AIDS

This is a disease that was hugely prevalent and about which there was a lot of awareness created in the 1980s and 1990s. Left untreated it can still be fatal but there are many people living with the condition now who use drugs called antiretrovirals to control the disease and improve their quality of life.

AIDS stands for acquired immune deficiency syndrome and it occurs when the autoimmune system attacks itself. This leaves the body weak and defenceless and susceptible to attack from other diseases or pathogens.

Left untreated most people with the condition will die from things like tuberculosis or pneumonia, conditions which a healthy body would ordinarily be able to fend off.

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