Autoimmune disorders

November 12, 2012

Autoimmune disorders

Unfortunately there is currently no known preventative treatment or cause for most autoimmune disorders.

An autoimmune disorder occurs when the immune system – usually a system which protects the body – begins to attack and destroy healthy tissue. The phrase autoimmune disorder includes over 80 different conditions.

The immune system, when functioning correctly, produces antibodies which are used in the body’s fight against bacteria, viruses, cancer cells etc. These substances, which are all harmful, produce antigens in the body – it is these antigens which the immune system directs its’ antibodies towards. When an autoimmune disorder, of any description, develops the immune system is unable to differentiate between these antigens and healthy tissue in the body.

Should an autoimmune disorder develop then it may have one of several outcomes -

  • Body tissue may be destroyed

  • Abnormal growth may be observed in an organ

  • Organ function may be altered.

It is quite possible that one or more tiss

e types or organs are affected by a disorder of the immune system but those that are most commonly affected include -

  • Blood vessels and red blood cells

  • Joints and muscles

  • Skin and connective tissue

  • Certain glands – thyroid or pancreas for example.

There are a wide variety of autoimmune disorders and it is quite possible for a patient to develop more than one simultaneously. The following short list is by no means exhaustive but serves to give some examples of the kind of condition which may develop as a result of a malfunctioning immune system -

  • Multiple Sclerosis

  • Addison’s Disease

  • Graves Disease

  • Pernicious anaemia

  • Arthritis – rheumatoid or reactive

  • Type 1 diabetes

  • Systemic Lupus Erythematosus

It is clear to see that because of the wide variety of conditions there will be a corresponding variety in symptoms presented however initially almost all patients will report a general feeling of being unwell, extreme fatigue and bouts of fever. Should any of these symptoms be ongoing and persistent the advice of your medical practitioner should always be sought. They may then carry out various tests to try and pinpoint the cause of your symptoms. After an initial physical examination these may include -

  • Antibody tests

  • CBC

  • CRP

  • ESR

Once diagnosis has been determined then a course of treatment may be decided upon, the goals of which will be to reduce symptoms and maintain the body’s ability to fight disease and to control the autoimmune responses and process. Of course treatment will depend on diagnosis.

  • Blood transfusions

  • Hormone or vitamin supplements

  • Prescription medication including both oral steroids and non-steroids. Unfortunately the side effects of some of these medications make it hard for the body to control infection.

  • Physiotherapy – a tailored exercise programme including energy conservation techniques has been found to be particularly beneficial.

Despite the chronic nature of most autoimmune disorders many can be well controlled with treatment. Symptoms do tend to come and go – a worsening of symptoms being referred to as a ‘flare-up’

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