There are over 80 identified autoimmune diseases, according to the American Autoimmune Related Diseases Association. Having an autoimmune disease means that your body attacks its own healthy cells and tissues because it mistakenly thinks they are infectious or unhealthy cells. Women account for approximately 80% of all people affected by autoimmune diseases.
The symptoms and causes for autoimmune diseases will vary depending on the type, location and severity. Autoimmune diseases generally have no cure, so treatment will typically focus on relieving symptoms and preventing any further damage that might be caused by the disease. Here are some of the most commonly diagnosed forms of autoimmune diseases, as well as their causes and the symptoms that characterize them.
Graves’ disease is the most frequently diagnosed form of hyperthyroidism, which is a condition that is characterized by overactivity in the thyroid. Graves’ disease occurs when the immune system begins to attack the thyroid gland, which causes it to produce higher levels of thyroxine. Thyroxine is a hormone that affects your metabolism, which can lead to symptoms such as enlarged or irritated eyes, weight loss, and frequent urination.
Like Graves’ disease, Hashimoto’s disease also affects the thyroid. However, the inflammation caused by Hashimoto’s disease causes the thyroid gland to become underactive (hypothyroidism), rather than overactive like Graves’. Common symptoms are consistent with that of hypothyroidism, including fatigue, pale skin, hoarse voice, unexplained weight gain, and muscle weakness.
This disease affects parts of your central nervous system, including the brain and spinal cord. Multiple sclerosis occurs when your immune system begins to attack myelin, which is the protective sheath that covers nerve fibers throughout your body. This can cause problems with the communication between your brain and the rest of your body, which can lead to a variety of symptoms depending on the location and severity of the nerve damage. It is possible for people with MS to lose their ability to walk independently or at all.
This type of autoimmune disease affects the synovium, which is the lining on the inside of your joints. The damage caused can lead to chronic inflammation and swelling, as well as eventual bone erosion and joint deformity. Rheumatoid arthritis typically affects the small joints located in your hands and feet, though it is also possible for this disease to affect other organs in your body, such as the skin, eyes, lungs, and blood vessels.
Lupus is different from other autoimmune diseases in that it doesn’t have a specific area or organ of the body that it attacks. Rather, the organs affected can be different for each person who suffers from the disease--it is possible for the inflammation and pain associated with lupus to affect many different body systems, including your skin, joints, kidneys, blood cells, brain, lungs, or heart. Lupus is also characterized by “flares,” which are periods of disease activity that cause you to feel sick because the affected area of the body is in pain.