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- 1 Autoimmune diseases – against our own body
- 2 Diabetes mellitus type 1
- 3 Hashimoto’s thyroiditis
- 4 Lupus erythematosus
- 5 Multiple Sclerosis – Inflamed Central Nervous System
- 6 Rheumatoid arthritis – chronically inflamed joints
Picture credits: © wdv / Olaf Georg Hermann
As different as the forms of autoimmune diseases are, they all have one thing in common: they are based on a defensive reaction of the immune system against the body’s own tissue. This means that the body’s own defenses attack healthy cells. The causes of this phenomenon are not exactly known. However, it is known that they are chronic, often occur in episodes and cannot be cured. In most cases, however, the symptoms can be treated well. In Germany, four to five percent of the population suffers from an autoimmune disease.
Our immune system keeps defense cells and antibodies ready for harmful bacteria and viruses that invade our body. They fight the invaders and thus protect us from disease. However, if an autoimmune disease is present, the immune system reacts incorrectly: suddenly it directs the defense substances also against useful endogenous cells.
Help for the chronically ill.
There are many different autoimmune diseases. Examples are diabetes mellitus type 1, psoriasis, multiple sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis, Hashimoto’s thyroiditis (chronic inflammation of the thyroid glands) and white spot disease (vitiligo).
The symptoms vary accordingly. Often an autoimmune disease makes itself felt through extreme fatigue and dysfunction of organs or joints. Some are initially accompanied by weight loss. Skin changes can also be a visible symptom. For others, sudden visual disturbances are part of the clinical picture.
The causes of most autoimmune diseases are not yet clearly understood. In most cases a genetic predisposition is present. But scientists also suspect that environmental influences play a role, because some diseases occur more frequently in industrialized countries. Viral infections are also suspected of triggering an autoimmune disease by causing the immune system to overreact.
As soon as the first symptoms appear, the autoimmune disease is usually unstoppable. Most forms run in relapses. This means that the symptoms are only noticeable during a relapse, after which they can recede and the patient may lead a symptom-free life for a long time. However, since the relapses occur again and again, autoimmune diseases are considered chronic.
It is difficult to diagnose autoimmune disease. The symptoms, such as fatigue, mild fever, diarrhea or nausea, are rather unspecific and can be attributed to many different diseases. The doctor will first ask about any symptoms that occur. Sometimes the blood provides information, for example if certain antibodies can be detected. Depending on the disease, ultrasound examinations, X-rays, the examination of tissue samples and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) are also part of the diagnostic process.
Autoimmune diseases are not curable. However, some of the symptoms can be greatly curtailed. The extent to which patients can lead a largely normal life depends on the form of their disease and its course. Accordingly, medications, physical and occupational therapies, and psychotherapies are used for treatment. Many also seek interaction with others in support groups. This is also where they get the most up-to-date information about their disease.