Autoimmune diseases are extremely common and affect more than 23.5 million Americans. They occur when the body’s immune system mistakenly attacks healthy tissues, leading to complications and even poor health.
What Causes Autoimmune Diseases?
The exact cause of autoimmune diseases is not known, but research has long shown that genetic, environmental, and hormonal factors play a role. Genetics likely make a person more predisposed to certain autoimmune diseases. For example, if a family member has multiple sclerosis (MS), there is an increased chance that other family members may develop the disease.
Environmental factors, such as exposure to certain chemicals, smoking, and other lifestyle choices can make a person more vulnerable to autoimmune diseases.
Symptoms of Autoimmune Diseases
The symptoms of autoimmune diseases vary greatly depending on what type of disease you are diagnosed with. Some of the most common symptoms include joint pain, fatigue, shortness of breath, fever, skin rash, and swelling of the lymph nodes.
In general, however, all autoimmune diseases share a few basic symptoms, including:
- Inflammation – redness, warmth, swelling, or pain of the affected area.
- Immune System Dysfunction – abnormal activity of certain immune system cells.
- Organ Damages – damage to organs caused by the body’s own immune system.
Diagnosis and Treatment Options
Diagnosing an autoimmune disease can be difficult as the symptoms can vary significantly and can easily be mistaken for those of other conditions. It is important to consult your healthcare provider if you suspect you may have an autoimmune disease.
The most important treatment for autoimmune diseases is to reduce inflammation and suppress the activity of the immune system. Treatment approaches vary, depending on the specific disease, but typically involve:
- Medication – drugs, such as corticosteroids, that can reduce inflammation or suppress the immune system.
- Diet and Nutrition – foods that contain anti-inflammatory compounds, such as omega-3 fatty acids and antioxidants.
- Exercise – regular exercise improves overall health and may help reduce inflammation.
Living with an autoimmune disease can be challenging and confusing, but it is possible to manage the condition and lead a healthy, active life. Early and accurate diagnosis is the key to successful treatment and maintenance of good health. By working closely with your healthcare providers, you can find a treatment plan that fits your lifestyle and helps you enjoy the highest quality of life possible.