What Is Autoimmune Disease?
Autoimmune diseases are disorders where the immune system reacts to its own tissues, instead of to foreign substances, and attacks itself. To better understand autoimmune disease, we first must understand the immune system.
What is the Immune System?
The immune system is the body's defense system. Its job is to determine the difference between the body's own cells and foreign cells, or antigens. Antigens include bacteria, viruses, fungus and other foreign tissues. The immune system recognizes and eliminates these cells. White blood cells make up the intelligence network that organizes the immune response. The immune system resides in different places in the body. Think about when you get sick; usually your lymph nodes in your throat swell up or your tonsils might be sore. The immune system lives in these areas, as well as the skin, adenoids, appendix, spleen, intestines and bone marrow. There are different types of white cells, including T cells, B cells, macrophage and mast cells.
What Are Autoimmune Diseases?
Autoimmune diseases are caused when the body mistakenly attacks its own cells instead of foreign cells by creating autoantibodies. This leads to autoimmune disorders. There are two types of autoimmune disorders: systemic and localized. Systemic disorders involve many organs and include disorders such as rheumatoid arthritis, lupus and Guillain-Barre syndrome. Localized disorders affect only one organ, though they may indirectly affect many others, and include type 1 diabetes, celiac disease, Crohn's disease and Graves" disease.
Causes and Risk Factors
There are many factors believed to cause autoimmune disorders. These factors include family history, environmental toxins, viruses and certain drugs. Stress, lack of exercise, unbalanced diet, excessive alcohol consumption and tobacco use can weaken the immune system, making it susceptible to disease.
Treatment of an Autoimmune Disorder
Doctors can't treat the disease directly; scientists don't know enough about these disorders. Doctors will treat the symptoms of the condition to relieve your illness. Common treatment may involve the use of corticosteroid or anti-inflammatory drugs, or immunosuppressant drugs to stop the progression of the disease. Radiation, blood tests and X-rays may be used as well. More specific treatment information will depend on the type of disease you have. Many people experience flare ups and temporary remissions in their symptoms.
Preventing Autoimmune Disorders
The best way to prevent autoimmune disorders, and general illness, is through lifestyle changes. Be sure to get plenty of sleep and exercise, as both are great ways to keep your immune system healthy. A balanced diet also is important. Other tips include limiting alcohol consumption and avoiding smoking.
Listen to Your Body
Your body will tell you when something is wrong. Pay attention to it, especially when you may have been exposed to illness. The holidays can be a time of over eating and drinking, sleeping less and stress. Be sure to take care of yourself. If you work in higher risk areas such as schools or enclosed offices, take care to keep your immune system strong.