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What is autoimmune disease

 article about what is autoimmune disease
2004-03-06
Our immune systems are geared to fight invading organisms that could otherwise harm us. Bacteria, viruses and parasites are often dealt with in short order. Many organisms that could make us ill are destroyed by our immune systems before we even know they are attacking us.

But for a growing number of us, our immune systems don't function correctly. Although there are acquired immune diseases, HIV/AIDS being the best know, that are caused by pathogens, in the case of this example, a virus, in the case of autoimmune diseases there is no clear cause, and thus, often times, little treatment.

So, what is an autoimmune disease? An autoimmune disease causes ones immune system to go on overload. Instead of just attacking the pathogens our body is exposed to daily, the immune system attacks body tissues. There are more than a dozen immune system diseases and no cure for any of them. They present a chronic often times disabling group of diseases that are experienced by all ages, all heritages and both sexes. These diseases attack a multiple number of body systems, including organs, connective tissues, joints, bones, skin and body cavity linings.

Some examples of autoimmune diseases are: Multiple Sclerosis, which attacks the nervous system; Crohns Disease, which attacks the gastrointestinal system; Pernicious Anemia, which attacks the blood; Diabetes Mellitus, which effects the endocrine glands; Psoriasis, which effects the skin; Rheumatoid Arthritis, which effects the musculoskeletal system; and Systemic Lupus Erythematosus, which can effect multiple systems, including connective tissues, organs, including the brain, joints, skin, and other areas of the body vulnerable to inflammation. None of these diseases are curable, and many can result in early death and surgical intervention. But many can be managed by appropriate medical care.

Much of treating these diseases is actually treating the symptoms: anti-inflammatory drugs, muscle relaxers, immune system suppressors and even anti-malarial drugs are used to treat these patients. Unfortunately, taking medications must become a way of life for these sufferers; where drugs are expensive and advanced medical care unavailable, those afflicted with these diseases often live a painful and often crippled existence that is ended with an early death, quite often from organ failure or an opportunistic infection that the overworked immune system is unable to resist.

Frustrating for both sufferers and the medical community is the fact that the same disease can present differently in different people. Lupus, for example, can attack the brain causing depression and psychosis or the kidneys leading to kidney failure or the joints causing swelling and pain or inflammation of the body cavity linings causing abdominal and chest pain or inflammation of the linings surrounding the heart and lungs, causing pain and difficulty breathing and that is not the full list of the systems that lupus can effect. Every patient has a slightly different set of symptoms, making diagnosis difficult at best.

Although there is constant ongoing research in these diseases, at this point those of us who live with an autoimmune disease can only hope for better medications to help us deal with the symptoms of the disease and protect ourselves from infections that could be life threatening. Of course, a good diet, weight control, and careful exercise can be important to keep the body in good condition for these patients, thus making the symptoms a bit more bearable.



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