What are autoimmune diseases?« Back to Questions List

Autoimmune diseases are those that are actually caused by the immune system of the body itself.  The immune system of the body is a collection of special cells and chemicals that fight infection causing agents like bacteria and viruses. For some reason, the immune system mistakes the healthy cells of the body to be foreign cells and starts to attack them. The disorders thus caused may be either single organ specific or can attack multiple organs.

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The T-lymphocytes are the T-cells which constitute a part of the immune system. These T-cells identify the foreign microbes like bacteria and viruses. Autoimmune disorders occur when these T-cells fail in their function. The actual cause for this malfunction is not known but environmental factors like exposure to solvents, chemicals or severe bacterial and viral infections acts as a trigger. The T-cells start to attack the healthy body tissues instructing the B-lymphocytes (B-cells) to make antibodies against the healthy cells or an organ. Such antibodies are called auto antibodies.

There are more than 80 known types of autoimmune disorders. Both genetic, environmental factors play a major role in causing autoimmune disorders. Even foods like gluten products, toxins like hair dyes etc may be a trigger. The most common tissues affected by them are joints, skin, connective tissue, red blood cells, blood vessels, muscles  and endocrine glands. Some of the common autoimmune diseases that are known are type 1 diabetes (affects pancreas), inflammatory bowel disease (affects pancreas), multiple sclerosis (affects nervous system), rheumatoid arthritis (affects joints), grave’s disease(affects thyroid gland), scleroderma (affects skin) etc. 

The disorder caused could range in severity from mild to disabling depending on which system is attacked and to what extent. Though the autoimmune diseases could not be completely cured, they can be treated to reduce pain or inflammation.


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