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What Are Autoimmune Diseases?
The word "auto" is the Greek word for self. The immune system is a complicated network of cells and cell components (called molecules) that normally work to defend the body and eliminate infections caused by bacteria, viruses, and other invading microbes. If a person has an autoimmune disease, the immune system mistakenly attacks self, targeting the cells, tissues, and organs of a person's own body. A collection of immune system cells and molecules at a target site is broadly referred to as inflammation.
There are many different autoimmune diseases, and they can each affect the body in different ways. For example, the autoimmune reaction is directed against the brain in multiple sclerosis and the gut in Crohn's disease. In other autoimmune diseases such as systemic lupus erythematosus (lupus), affected tissues and organs may vary among individuals with the same disease. One person with lupus may have affected skin and joints whereas another may have affected skin, kidney, and lungs. Ultimately, damage to certain tissues by the immune system may be permanent, as with destruction of insulin-producing cells of the pancreas in Type 1 diabetes mellitus.
Who Is Affected by Autoimmune Diseases?
Many of the autoimmune diseases are rare. As a group, however, autoimmune diseases afflict millions of Americans. Most autoimmune diseases strike women more often than men; in particular, they affect women of working age and during their childbearing years.
Some autoimmune diseases occur more frequently in certain minority populations. For example, lupus is more common in African-American and Hispanic women than in Caucasian women of European ancestry. Rheumatoid arthritis and scleroderma affect a higher percentage of residents in some Native American communities than in the general U.S. population. Thus, the social, economic, and health impact from autoimmune diseases is far-reaching and extends not only to family but also to employers, co-workers, and friends.
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What Are the Causes of Autoimmune Diseases?Are they contagious? No autoimmune disease has ever been shown to be contagious or "catching." Autoimmune diseases do not spread to other people like infections. They are not related to AIDS, nor are they a type of cancer.
Are they inherited? The genes people inherit contribute to their susceptibility for developing an autoimmune disease. Certain diseases such as psoriasis can occur among several members of the same family. This suggests that a specific gene or set of genes predisposes a family member to psoriasis. In addition, individual family members with autoimmune diseases may inherit and share a set of abnormal genes, although they may develop different autoimmune diseases. For example, one first cousin may have lupus, another may have dermatomyositis, and one of their mothers may have rheumatoid arthritis.
|Examples of Autoimmune Diseases:|
(Listed by the Main Target Organ)
|Nervous System:|| Gastrointestinal System:|
| ||Multiple sclerosis|| ||Crohn's Disease|
| ||Myasthenia gravis|| ||Ulcerative colitis|
| ||Autoimmune neuropathies|| ||Primary biliary cirrhosis|
| || such as Guillain-Barré|| ||Autoimmune hepatitis|
| ||Autoimmune uveitis|| || |
| || || ||Endocrine Glands:|
| ||Blood:|| ||Type 1 or immune-mediated|
| ||Autoimmune hemolytic anemia|| || diabetes mellitus|
| ||Pernicious anemia|| ||Grave's Disease|
| ||Autoimmune thrombocytopenia|| ||Hashimoto's thyroiditis|
| || || ||Autoimmune oophoritis and|
| ||Blood Vessels:|| || orchitis|
| ||Temporal arteritis|| ||Autoimmune disease of the|
| ||Anti-phospholipid syndrome|| || adrenal gland|
| ||Vasculitides such as|| || |
| || Wegener's granulomatosis|| ||Multiple Organs Including the|
| ||Behcet's disease|| ||Musculoskeletal System:*|
| || || ||Rheumatoid arthritis|
| ||Skin:|| ||Systemic lupus erythematosus|
| ||Psoriasis|| ||Scleroderma|
| ||Dermatitis herpetiformis|| ||Polymyositis, dermatomyositis|
| ||Pemphigus vulgaris|| ||Spondyloarthropathies such as|
| ||Vitiligo|| || ankylosing spondylitis|
| || || ||Sjogren's syndrome|
| || || || |
|*These diseases are also called connective tissue (muscle, skeleton, tendons, fascia, etc.) diseases.|
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