Autoimmune diseases occur when the immune system of the body starts attacking its own cells. This article presents you with a comprehensive list of autoimmune diseases.
Our body is habituated to recognizing cells, tissues, organs and other body parts as ‘self’ and ‘non-self’. But due to certain reasons, our body fails to recognize its own part, and attacks itself with antibodies in response. This unwanted and unnecessary protective act leads to diseases and that too, mostly dangerous ones. These diseases are known as autoimmune diseases. Autoimmunity is not just restricted to human beings, but it is also found in other organisms.
Alopecia Areata: This autoimmune disease attacks the body hair. By body hair I mean, hair anywhere on the body, from head to toe. It is classified into different types according to the area it has affected. The extreme type of alopecia areata known as ‘alopecia areata totalis’ leads to hair loss throughout the body, including the pubic hair. First symptoms of alopecia areata are small, round, bald patches on the affected area. The affected area may have a tingling sensation and in some cases, pain has also been observed. In 90% cases, hair grows back within a year, without any treatment. Only in 10% cases, there is minimal or no hair growth. In these extreme cases, the person is treated with fluocinonide, steroid injections and various creams. But the success rates so far, has been very low. Oral medication like corticosteroids is also prescribed many a time but it is helpful only till it is being consumed. And corticosteroids are also known to have very adverse side effects.
Addison’s Disease: It is a disease caused by the disorder of adrenal glands. It is also known as chronic adrenal insufficiency and hypocortisolism and is caused when the adrenal glands fail to produce the required amount of steroids, for the body. It may occur in a person of any age group and some of its symptoms are fatigue, dizziness, vomiting, muscle weakness, anxiety, weight loss, sweating and mood and personality swings. Addison’s disease is usually treated through the oral dosages of hydrocortisone tablets which replaces the missing cortisol that is responsible for all these problems.
Ankylosing Spondylitis: It is a suspected autoimmune disease that affects the spine and the sacroilium. Suspected means, that the researchers suspect it to be an autoimmune disease and is yet not confirmed, as one. Initially it was known as Bechterew’s disease and is a type of arthritis which causes the fusion of vertebrae in the spine. In women, the disease is known to affect other joints of the body like, shoulders, hips, feet, etc. The common symptoms of Ankylosing spondylitis are peripheral joint pain, fatigue and nausea. In some cases inflammation of the eye (iridocyclitis), is associated to this disease, it causes eye pain and photophobia. Aortitis, apical lung fibrosis and ectasia are some less common symptoms. In children, the symptoms may be pain and swelling in the ankles and feet. Ankylosing spondylitis is treated through a combination of physical therapy and exercise along with medications. But mind you, the treatments don’t cure the disease, they just reduce the symptoms.
Antiphospholipid Antibody Syndrome (APS): APS causes blood clots in the arteries and the veins of the person suffering from it. It also leads to complications in pregnancy. This disease happens when the body starts producing antibodies against phospholipid, which is a cell membrane substance. The basic symptoms of the disease are deep vein thrombosis, stroke. Whereas in pregnant women the symptoms may be miscarriage, pre-eclampsia and still birth. This disease is mostly treated by using analgesic and anticogulants like aspirin and warfarin.
Autoimmune Hemolytic Anemia: It is an autoimmune disease where, the body attacks its own red blood cells, leading to their destruction and hence resulting into anemia. Autoimmune hemolytic anemia is divided into 3 categories known as Warm autoimmune hemolytic anemia, Cold agglutinin disease, and Paroxysmal cold hemoglobinuria. The symptoms of this disease depends on the type of hemolytic anemia a person has, but the most basic symptom of all the 3 is fatigue. Other symptoms include dizziness, breathlessness, pale skin and in serious cases: chest pain.
Autoimmune Hepatitis: Autoimmune hepatitis is a disease in which a person’s immune responses attack the liver cells leading to the inflammation of the liver and the destruction of the liver cells. Autoimmune hepatitis can coexist with other liver diseases and may also be triggered by viral infections like, hepatitis A and chemicals like, minocycline. The basic symptoms of autoimmune hepatitis are enlarged liver, jaundice, skin rashes, vomiting, nausea, loss of appetite, etc. It is diagnosed through blood tests and liver biopsy and is treated with daily doses of corticosteroids which suppress the overactive immune system.
Autoimmune Inner Ear Disease: This is suspected to be an autoimmune disease. It is supposed to be caused when the immune system of the body attacks the cells of the inner ear, mistaking them to be a virus or a bacterium. This leads to progressive hearing loss in the affected person. Autoimmune inner ear disease is mostly treated using steroids, like all the other autoimmune diseases because steroids come in handy, when it comes to suppressing the immune system of the body. In order to avoid the side effects of the steroids, surgery and alternative medications are preferred.
Chagas Disease: Chagas disease is a parasitic disease and is suspected to be an autoimmune disease. It is caused by flagellate protozoan Trypanosoma cruzi, in short T. Cruzi. Chagas disease has been divided into 2 stages, acute and chronic. The acute stage is the first one, which generally shows no symptoms but one very common symptom that it shows is the Romaña’s sign, which includes swelling of the eyelids. There are some other mild symptoms like fever, fatigue, body aches, headache, rash, loss of appetite, diarrhea, and vomiting which are not unique to this disease. The symptoms of the chronic stage include damages to the nervous system, digestive system and the heart. For chagas disease the saying “Prevention is better than cure” holds true because there is no vaccination available for it. The prevention of the spread of vector Triatoma is targeted with the use of sprays, painting and by maintaining general hygiene. The treatment generally includes antiparasitic drugs and is considered efficient only in the acute case.
Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD): This disease is a combination of two very commonly coexisting diseases, bronchitis and emphysema, which lead to the narrowing of the airways. It is suspected to be an autoimmune disease. This disease can be easily related to asthma but the difference lies in the fact, that unlike asthma, it is non-reversible and with time it worsens. Its symptoms are shortness of breath, tiredness, persistent cough and tightening in the chest. COPD is treated using a lot of medicines and procedures, depending upon the reason of its onslaught.
Crohn’s Disease: Crohn’s disease is a disorder of the intestine. And by intestine I mean the complete gastrointestinal tract. Its common symptoms are abdominal pain, diarrhea, vomiting and weight loss. It is also known to cause some general problems like skin rashes and arthritis and sometimes inflammation of the eyes also. As of now, there is no cure for Crohn’s disease. Only the symptoms and the relapse can be controlled and suppressed using the medication.
Diabetes Mellitus Type 1: A person suffers from diabetes mellitus type 1 when his body’s immune system, attacks the insulin producing beta cells in the pancreas. This type of diabetes can be lethal if not detected early and unless the person is not administered with insulin injections. Its symptoms are frequent urination, nausea, vomiting, dehydration and weight loss. The treatment usually consists of insulin injections and monitoring of diet. In severe cases of type 1 diabetes, pancreas and islet cell transplantation is required.
Graves’ Disease: Grave’s Disease is an autoimmune disease related to the thyroid gland. It causes the thyroid gland to grow twice the original size, leading all the other problems related to thyroid and hormones. It is a genetic disorder in most of the cases. Its symptoms are exophthalmos, edema, hypothyroidism, fatigue and muscular weakness. Graves’ Disease is treated using anti thyroid drugs which help in reducing the activity of the thyroid gland. Another medication is the radioactive iodine. The last for the treatment of the Graves’ disease is the surgery called thyroidectomy which involves the removal of the thyroid gland itself.
Goodpasture’s Syndrome: Goodpasture’s syndrome is a disease characterized by glomerulonephritis and hemorrhage in the lungs. Its initial symptoms are fatigue, nausea, difficulty in breathing or paleness. With time, the person may show symptoms like blood in cough and burning sensation while urinating. Sometimes blood is also observed in the urine. It is treated using corticosteroids and immunosuppressants, like most of the autoimmune diseases.
Hidradenitis Suppurativa: This is suspected to be an autoimmune disease and is a disorder of skin. It affects the areas that have the apocrine sweat glands and the hair follicles, namely the underarms, groin and buttocks. In women, it is commonly found under the breast. The symptoms of this disease are, formation of clusters of chronic abscesses or boils which can sometimes be very big and painful. They mostly contain pus and when opened, the wounds do not heal easily. Hidradenitis suppurativa is divided into 3 stages, depending upon the characteristics. Its treatment also depends on the severity of the disease and mainly consists of medication and therapy. But as the disease has not been researched well, the effectiveness of the medication is not known. Some of the common medication includes corticosteroids, antibiotics, vitamin A supplements and zinc gluconate, etc.
IgA Nephropathy: IgA nephropathy is suspected to be an autoimmune disease and is also known as IgA nephritis, IgAN, Berger’s disease and synpharyngitic glomerulonephritis. It is a disorder of the kidney. The most common symptoms of this condition are hematuria, skin rashes, arthritis and abdominal pain and some of the more serious ones include nephrotic syndrome, acute renal failure and chronic renal failure. Its treatment totally depends on the symptoms that it is showing and is more of the removal of symptoms. Depending on the symptoms and the problems, the patients are treated with the varying doses of steroids.
Idiopathic Thrombocytopenic Purpura: It is also known as immune thrombocytopenic purpura or immune-mediated thrombocytopenic purpura and a person suffering from it has a very low platelet count. Often this disease doesn’t show any symptoms but when it does the symptoms to look out for are, bruises and blood from the nostrils and the gums. Internal bleeding is one very serious symptom of idiopathic thrombocytopenic purpura. The treatment totally depends on the seriousness of the case. In most cases, where the blood count is more than 50,000, no treatment is required. Whereas, in other serious cases treatment may vary from consumption of steroids to the transfusion of platelet.
Mixed Connective Tissue Disease: It is also known as Sharp syndrome. This disease is a combination of other serious autoimmune diseases like scleroderma, myositis, systematic lupus erythematosus and rheumatoid arthritis. In short, it is an overlap syndrome. An overlap syndrome is a condition in which the person suffering from it shows the symptoms of more than one autoimmune disease. This disease is known to cause joint pain and swelling, malaise, raynaud phenomenon, muscle inflammation and sclerodactyly. Its treatment is totally symptomatic consisting of immunosuppressants and corticosteroids.
Myasthenia Gravis: It is an autoimmune disorder related to the muscles. It is caused when there is a communication problem between the brain and the muscles. Simply stating: “Myasthenia gravis is caused by a defect in the transmission of nerve impulses to muscles”. Its unique symptom is the muscle weakness which is also termed as fatigability. The muscles that are more prone to this are muscles related to facial expressions, eyelid movement and swallowing. Myasthenia gravisis treated by both medication and surgery. Medicines include the ones that directly improve muscle function and immunosuppressant drugs. The surgical method for its treatment is known as thymectomy.
Multiple Sclerosis (MS): MS is an autoimmune disease which refers to the disorder of the nervous system. It occurs when the body’s immune system attacks its own central nervous system. This disorder hinders the communication between the nerve cells in the brain and the spinal cord. The symptoms of multiple sclerosis are similar to any neurological disorder. The list includes the likes of, muscle weakness, ataxia, problem in speech, fatigue, pain and also some emotional symptoms like depression and unstable mood. The treatment for this disorder is nothing in particular. It mainly consists of therapies depending upon the symptoms. Medication for this includes corticosteroids. In acute cases, plasmapheresis is done.
Neuromyotonia: Neuromyotonia is a suspected autoimmune disease and is also known as Isaacs’ Syndrome and is a disorder of neuromuscular activity. Its symptoms include muscle stiffness, continuous vibration and twitching in muscles, cramping, increased sweating and delay in muscle relaxation. All these symptoms occur even when the person is sleeping. This disease is both acquired and genetic. The acquired one is more common. There is no known treatment for neuromyotonia, so, all a person can do is suppress the symptoms. Anticonvulsants are used to relieve muscle stiffness, plasma exchange procedure gives some relief to the patients who have the acquired form of the disorder.
Primary Biliary Cirrhosis: It is an autoimmune disease related to the liver. This disorder causes the destruction of the small bile ducts that are present in the liver. This process finally leads to the damage in the liver tissues. Its symptoms are fatigue, jaundice, itchy skin, cirrhosis and portal hypertension (hypertension in portal veins). It is divided into stages depending on the condition the patient and the liver is in. There is no actual cure for primary biliary cirrhosis, all that can be done is slow down the progress rate of the disease and medication can help suppress and treat the symptoms.
Pernicious Anemia: It is a form of megaloblastic anemia and is caused due to the deficiency of vitamin B12. The symptoms that indicate towards pernicious anemia are fatigue, hypotension, brain fog, tachycardia, frequent diarrhea, pallor, jaundice and shortness of breath. There is no exact treatment for pernicious anemia and whatever exists varies geographically. The treatments that are currently in use majorly concentrate on the replacement of the vitamin B12 and this is achieved by both oral medications and injections.
Polymyositis: Polymyositis is related to inflammatory muscle disorder and it literally means ‘many muscle inflammation’. Its symptoms include the likes of muscle weakness, dysphagia, fever, thickening of the skin on the fingers and hands. It is treated with the use of high dose of steroids and immunosuppressants.
Psoriatic Arthritis: It is suspected to be an autoimmune disease and mostly affects the people suffering from psoriasis. So, the one major symptom of psoriatic arthritis is psoriasis. It is a type of inflammatory arthritis. Hence, the treatments are majorly directed towards the reduction of the inflammation. It is treated using immunosuppressants and corticosteroids.
Pemphigus Vulgaris: It is an autoimmune skin disorder which causes skin lesions that are often painful. It is mostly confused with impetigo and candidiasis. Its symptoms are skin blisters and skin disintegration. It is mostly treated with corticosteroids and other immunosuppressive drugs.
Stiff Person Syndrome: Stiff person syndrome is a suspected autoimmune disease. It is a neurological disease characterized by progressive rigidity in the muscles. There are various stages of stiffness associated with this disease and so are the symptoms. The stages vary from initial ones consisting of back pain to the extreme cases with complaints of skeletal fractures and muscular ruptures. Stiff person syndrome is also found in babies and is known as stiff baby syndrome. In babies, this syndrome is known to have been fatal in many cases. It is associated with many diseases like, cerebral ataxia, epilepsy, breast cancer and diabetes mellitus. Treatment for stiff person syndrome includes plasmapheresis, intravenous immunoglobulin, physical therapy, occupational therapy and antispastic agents, depending on the seriousness of the syndrome.
Sjögren’s Syndrome: It is an autoimmune disease, in which the immune system of the body attacks the exocrine glands that are responsible for the production of tears and saliva. Its main symptoms are dryness of mouth and eyes. In some cases, it also leads to dryness of vagina. This syndrome is known to affect organs like kidney, pancreas, lungs and even the blood vessels. Treatment for Sjögren’s syndrome is not known and is very specific to the symptoms. In the case of dry eyes, tear glands of the patient are mostly supplemented with artificial tears to help the dryness. And for salivary glands, there are a lot of drugs available that help in providing some relief.
Schizophrenia: It is a suspected autoimmune disease and is a mental disorder that causes abnormalities in the perception of the affected person. It may tend to affect five senses i.e., sight, hearing, sense, smell and touch. The common symptoms of schizophrenia are auditory hallucinations, delusions, disorganized and unusual thinking and speech. Social isolation is also a common symptom. There is no way to clinically diagnose schizophrenia. Diagnosis is mostly dependent on the observations of the person suffering from it.
Vitiligo: Vitiligo is a suspected autoimmune disease. It is a type of skin disorder which causes depigmentation of the skin. The skin turns visibly patchy and is most prominent on the face, hands and wrist. The basic symptom is the depigmentation of the skin and skin lesions. Vitiligo is also known to have an effect on the mental health of the person suffering from it. It is treated according to the area it has affected and the severity of the disorder. In mild cases, it is possible to hide it using makeup and avoiding sun exposure. For more serious cases, phototherapy is a very common approach. Skin creams are also prescribed by the doctors to control and treat vitiligo. There is also an option of a surgery that helps treat vitiligo. It was first performed in 2004 and is now practiced widely.
Though this is not a complete list of autoimmune diseases, it still is a comprehensive list that will help you understand the reasons and the cures for these sometimes deadly diseases. It’s really strange to learn that our body is capable of harming itself and that too fatally many a time. It is always said that prevention is better than cure but when it comes to autoimmune disease, prevention is mostly impossible. So, all that can be suggested is stay healthy and do not ignore any health problem just like that. Do get yourself checked regularly and stay in touch with your physician.
Disclaimer: The information provided in this article is solely for educating the reader. It is not intended to be a substitute for the advice of a medical expert.