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Autoimmune Disease

Posted Jun 23 2009 6:54pm

Autoimmune disorders are conditions in which a person's immune system attacks the body's own cells, causing tissue destruction.


Autoimmunity is accepted as the cause of a wide range of disorders, and it is suspected to be responsible for many more. Autoimmune diseases are classified as either general, in which the autoimmune reaction takes place simultaneously in a number of tissues, or organ specific, in which the autoimmune reaction targets a single organ.

Autoimmune disorders include the following:

  • Systemic lupus erythematosus . A general autoimmune disease in which antibodies attack a number of different tissues. The disease recurs periodically and is seen mainly in young and middle-aged women.
  • Rheumatoid arthritis . Occurs when the immune system attacks and destroys the tissues that line bone joints and cartilage. The disease occurs throughout the body, although some joints may be more affected than others.
  • Goodpasture's syndrome. Occurs when antibodies are deposited in the membranes of both the lung and kidneys, causing both inflammation of kidney glomerulus ( glomerulonephritis ) and lung bleeding. It is typically a disease of young males.
  • Grave's disease. Caused by an antibody that binds to specific cells in the thyroid gland, causing them to make excessive amounts of thyroid hormone.
  • Hashimoto's thyroiditis . Caused by an antibody that binds to cells in the thyroid gland. Unlike in Grave's disease, however, this antibody's action results in less thyroid hormone being made.
  • Pemphigus vulgaris. A group of autoimmune disorders that affect the skin.
  • Myasthenia gravis . A condition in which the immune system attacks a receptor on the surface of muscle cells, preventing the muscle from receiving nerve impulses and resulting in severe muscle weakness.
  • Scleroderma . Also called CREST syndrome or progressive systemic sclerosis, scleroderma affects the connective tissue.
  • Autoimmune hemolytic anemia . Occurs when the body produces antibodies that coat red blood cells.
  • Autoimmune thrombocytopenic purpura. Disorder in which the immune system targets and destroys blood platelets.
  • Polymyositis and Dermatomyositis. Immune disorders that affect the neuromuscular system.
  • Pernicious anemia . Disorder in which the immune system attacks the lining of the stomach in such a way that the body cannot metabolize vitamin B12.
  • Sjögren's syndrome. Occurs when the exocrine glands are attacked by the immune system, resulting in excessive dryness.
  • Ankylosing spondylitis . Immune system induced degeneration of the joints and soft tissue of the spine.
  • Vasculitis . A group of autoimmune disorders in which the immune system attacks and destroys blood vessels.
  • Type I diabetes mellitus . May be caused by an antibody that attacks and destroys the islet cells of the pancreas, which produce insulin.
  • Amyotrophic lateral schlerosis. Also called Lou Gehrig's disease. An immune disorder that causes the death of neurons which leads to progressive loss of muscular control.
  • Guillain-Barre syndrome. Also called infectious polyneuritis. Often occurring after an infection or an immunization (specifically Swine flu), the disease affects the myelin sheath, which coats nerve cells. It causes progressive muscle weakness and paralysis .
  • Multiple sclerosis . An autoimmune disorder that may involve a virus affects the central nervous system, causing loss of coordination and muscle control.

The following symptoms are common in many, if not all, autoimmune diseases.

Fatigue: It’s not a good fatigue, from working hard, but an anxious, uncomfortable fatigue related to lack of sleep. Or a disruption of the energy production mechanism in cells, either from lack of oxygen, increased toxicity, infections or a malfunction of the mitochondria.

Sleep Disturbance: About 80% may wake up three or four times a night, or in some cases you don’t wake up, but in the morning you still feel like a truck ran over you. The reason for this is that subliminal seizures kick you out of stage 4, Delta sleep, to stage 1 sleep so you can’t sleep deeply and wake up not rested.

Short Term Memory Loss: Because of the low thyroid and heart complications typical in autoimmune diseases, there is a decrease in blood flow to the left lobe of the brain causing an oxygen deficiency in the brain. This can lead to the memory loss and forgetfulness that is common in autoimmune diseases.

Emotional Liability: Someone may cry more easily, be more anxious and fearful. This is caused by the illness, and is not a psychological reaction!

Depression: As with the emotional symptoms, the hypothalamus is involved. This is not clinical depression, but literally has a physical cause that is sometimes experienced as a deep depression right in the heart.

Low Thyroid Function. About 85% have this symptom, but only about 10% of the time does it show up on a typical thyroid test. If you get tested, have both a T3 and T4 done. About 10% have excessive hair loss. For most everyone, a poorly performing thyroid will show up as subnormal temperatures.

Gastrointestinal Problems: About 75% have this symptom. Can be anything from gas, bloating, cramps, diarrhea or constipation to hiatal hernia, irritable bowel syndrome or Crohn’s Disease. Sometimes taking a simple homeopathic remedy like arsenicum album, 6x or 6c and make a difference with this.

Swollen Glands, Chemical Sensitivity, Headaches: Allergies often develop, usually after 3 to 5 years. Eyes can be light sensitive for 6 months or longer. Dry eyes can develop. About 20% experience a very uncomfortable disequilibrium of vertigo, almost an out of body feeling that can be most disconcerting.

Pain and Fibromyalgia: Often diagnosed as a separate illness, fibromyalgia is basically a symptom that can occur with any autoimmune disease. If you have it, you’ve got pain. Often in the neck and in shoulder muscles extending down the back. Can be in the joints and muscles also.

Low Blood Sugar.

Candida Yeast Infections: These are very common. Check your tongue. If it has a white coating, you have it. Or take the spit test you will read about later. Women may get vaginal yeast infections caused by candida overgrowth. A candida infection on its own can cause a number of autoimmune type symptoms. Sinus infections often are caused by candida.

Tingling hands. Ringing ears. Cold toes. Cold fingers. Metallic taste in mouth. Caused by poor circulation and who knows what.

Overdoing: You overexercise or overwork when your are feeling good, and then feel worse for days afterward. This can cause serious problems. In healthy people the body shuts down when the anaerobic threshold is reached as a lot of pain is experienced. This warning does not occur if you have an autoimmune disease. Instead, the body continues to exercise and experiences no pain as the lactic acid builds up, and the body ends up recirculating carbon dioxide. This is not a healthy thing to have happen to you. It is important not to push too hard when you start recovering, or this will set you back and wipe you out.

Fluttering Heart. Panic Attacks. Rapid Heartbeat. Mitral Valve Prolapse. Usually blood pressure is low, though it can get high later on. The heart underpumps blood because it is getting incorrect messages from the autonomous nervous system. The body’s feedback loop picks this up and over-reacts. And you get these symptoms.

If you have autoimmune illness, it is not likely you have all these symptoms. However, you will have many of them to one degree or another.

A person may have more than one autoimmune disorder at the same time. Examples of autoimmune (or autoimmune-related) disorders include:

The health care provider will perform a physical exam. Specific signs vary widely and depend on the specific disease.

Tests that may be done to diagnose an autoimmune disorder may include:

The goals of treatment are to reduce symptoms and control the autoimmune process while maintaining the body's ability to fight disease. Treatments vary widely and depend on the specific disease and your symptoms.

Some patients may need supplements to replenish a hormone or vitamin that the body is lacking. Examples include thyroid supplements, vitamins, or insulin injections.

If the autoimmune disorder affects the blood, the person may need blood transfusions .

Measures to help with movement or other functions may be needed for autoimmune disorders that affect the bones, joints, or muscles.

Medicines are often prescribed to control or reduce the immune system's response. Such medicines may include corticosteroids and immunosuppressant drugs such as cyclophosphamide or azathioprine .

The outcome depends on the specific disease. Most are chronic , but many can be controlled with treatment. Symptoms of autoimmune disorders can come and go. The sudden, severe development of symptoms is called a flare up.

Complications depend on the specific disease. Side effects of medications used to suppress the immune system can be severe.

Call your health care provider if symptoms of an autoimmune disorder develop.

There is no known prevention for most autoimmune disorders.

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