Autoimmune diseases occur when the immune system malfunctions, causing immune cells called antibodies to mistakenly attack healthy tissue. More than 80 autoimmune diseases exist, affecting millions of men, women and children in the U.S. In most cases, researchers are unclear what causes the immune system to attack healthy tissues, but they do know the malfunction can often be triggered by illness, trauma, chronic stress, environmental pollutants or other factors.
There are literally dozens of autoimmune diseases on record. Some of the most prevalent include:
type I diabetes
Autoimmune diseases can cause a wide array of symptoms, depending on the type of disease that's present. Some common symptoms include:
chronic pain, especially joint pain
general feeling of being “under the weather”
Diagnosis of autoimmune diseases can be difficult since many symptoms are shared by other diseases that do not involve the immune system. Diagnosis begins with a comprehensive physical exam and medical history to look for risk factors and get a clear understanding of symptoms. Lab tests including blood work and urinalysis can help confirm some diagnoses as well as rule out diseases that may cause similar symptoms. It's also important to realize that while some autoimmune diseases may occur more commonly in families, other diseases are not related to heredity.
That depends on the type of autoimmune disease you're experiencing. Treatment typically is focused on relieving symptoms and working to control or suppress the immune system's faulty response. Your treatment plan will be customized specifically to your symptoms, your health and your lifestyle.
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