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You are here : 3-RX.com > Medical Encyclopedia > Diseases and Conditions > Autoimmune Disorders
      Category : Health Centers > Immune System

Autoimmune Disorders

Alternate Names : Autoimmune Conditions

Overview, Causes, & Risk Factors | Symptoms & Signs | Diagnosis & Tests | Prevention & Expectations | Treatment & Monitoring

An autoimmune disorder is one in which a person's immune system begins to attack his or her own body. The immune system creates antibodies against its own tissues. Virtually every part of the body is susceptible to an autoimmune disorder. The following are some diseases and conditions that are believed to have an autoimmune component:

  • autoimmune hemolytic anemia, in which the immune system destroys a person's red blood cells
  • autoimmune hepatitis, which causes inflammation of the liver
  • Berger's disease, also known as IgA nephropathy, which causes kidney damage
  • chronic fatigue syndrome, which causes feelings of malaise, or a vague feeling of illness
  • Crohn's disease, which causes inflammation in the bowels
  • dermatomyositis, which affects the skin and muscles
  • fibromyalgia, which causes chronic pain and stiffness in the muscles
  • Graves' disease, which affects the thyroid gland
  • Hashimoto's thyroiditis, which is a chronic inflammation of the thyroid gland
  • idiopathic thrombocytopenia purpura, which causes low platelet counts and interferes with normal blood clotting
  • lichen planus, which affects the skin, eyes, and linings of the mouth and genitals
  • multiple sclerosis, in which the body attacks parts of the nervous system
  • myasthenia gravis, which causes severe muscle weakness
  • psoriasis, which causes skin lesions and itching
  • rheumatic fever, which causes damage to body organs, including the heart, following a strep infection
  • rheumatoid arthritis, in which the body attacks the joints
  • scleroderma, which involves the skin, gut, and other structures
  • Sjogren syndrome, which causes dry eyes and mouth
  • systemic lupus erythematosus, in which the body attacks connective tissue in joints and also in the kidneys
  • type 1 diabetes, a condition in which the individual doesn't produce enough insulin
  • ulcerative colitis, which also causes inflammation in the bowels
  • vitiligo, which causes a decrease in skin pigments
  • What is going on in the body?

    The job of the immune system is to protect the body from foreign substances. It is the immune system that fights off infections caused by bacteria or viruses. Sometimes a person's own tissues may be seen as "foreign" by the immune system. When this happens, the immune system attacks the body itself. This response is known as an autoimmune disorder.

    What are the causes and risks of the condition?

    Some autoimmune disorders, such as psoriasis, run in families and may have a genetic component. Although no one knows for sure what causes an autoimmune response, some triggers have been identified. These triggers, which may bring on a flare-up of the disorder or worsening of symptoms, include the following:

  • aging
  • cancers, such as leukemia
  • hormones
  • medications
  • pregnancy
  • stress
  • sunlight
  • viral infection, such as a cold or flu
  • New research findings suggest that autoimmune disorders may be triggered by a transfer of cells between the fetus and the mother during pregnancy. The study involved women with scleroderma, an autoimmune disorder involving the skin. These women have more fetal cells in their blood decades after a pregnancy than women who don't have scleroderma. While further research is needed to substantiate these findings, the study does offer an explanation for the much higher incidence of autoimmune disorders in women than in men.


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    Autoimmune Disorders: Symptoms & Signs

    Author: Gail Hendrickson, RN, BS
    Reviewer: Adam Brochert, MD
    Date Reviewed: 08/28/01

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