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Dr. Rachel: Is your body attacking itself?

Do you feel fatigued? Do your muscles hurt? Do you have a low grade fever and just not feeling good overall?

Well you may have an autoimmune disease.

Our immune system protects us from disease and keeps us well.  A normal immune system can tell the difference between our healthy cells and unhealthy or foreign cells. In an autoimmune disease, your immune system starts to attack healthy cells in your body by mistake. So, your body basically starts attacking itself.

There are more than 80 known autoimmune diseases. Many of them have similar symptoms which makes them hard to diagnose. They usually fluctuate between periods of remission or no symptoms, and flares where symptoms become worse.

No one knows what causes autoimmune diseases. But, they do run in families. Women are affected more than men and are usually diagnosed in their childbearing years.

Some autoimmune diseases are more common or more severe in certain groups of people. For instance, Type 1 diabetes is more common in white people. Lupus is more severe in African Americans and Hispanics.

There is no cure for autoimmune diseases. Treatment is geared towards relieving symptoms.

Here is a list of common autoimmune diseases:

Rheumatoid arthritis Immune system attacks the lining of the joints throughout the body leading to inflammation of joints and surrounding tissues
Systemic lupus erythematosus- “Lupus” Affects skin, joints, kidney, brain, and other organs
Multiple sclerosis Immune system attacks the protective coating around the nerves. The damage affects the brain and spinal cord.
Celiac sprue disease A reaction to gluten (found in wheat, rye, and barley) that causes damage to the lining of the small  intestines
Pernicious anemia Decrease in red blood cells caused by inability to absorb vitamin B12
Vitiligo Immune system destroys the cells that give your skin its color leads to white patches on the skin caused by loss of pigment
Alopecia The immune system attacks hair follicles (the structures from which hair grows). Patchy hair loss on the scalp, face, or other areas of your body
Scleroderma A connective tissue disease that causes changes in skin, blood vessels, muscles, and internal organs
Psoriasis A disease that causes new skin cells that grow deep in your skin to rise too fast and pile up on the skin surface. Leads to thick, flaky, silver-white patches and inflammation and itching.
Inflammatory Bowel disease A group of inflammatory diseases of the colon and small intestine causes chronic inflammation of the digestive tract. Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis are the most common forms of IBD.
Hashimoto’s disease Disease that causes the thyroid to not make enough thyroid hormone and inflammation of the thyroid gland
Addison’s disease Immune system attacks the cells in the adrenals that make cortisol and aldosterone  leading to adrenal hormone insufficiency
Graves’ disease Over activity of the thyroid gland so too much hormone is made
Antiphospholipid antibody syndrome (aPL) A disease that causes problems in the inner lining of blood vessels resulting in blood clots in arteries or veins
Autoimmune hepatitis Immune system attacks and destroys the liver cells. This can lead to scarring and hardening of the liver, and possibly liver failure
Idiopathic thrombocytopenic purpura (ITP) The immune system destroys blood platelets, which are needed for blood to clot
Reactive arthritis Inflammation of joints, urethra, and eyes; may cause sores on the skin and mucus membranes
Sjögren’s syndrome Immune system targets the glands that make moisture, such as tears and saliva causing dry eyes and mouth; can affect kidney and lungs.
Type 1 diabetes Immune system destroys of insulin producing cells in the pancreas