Autoimmune diseases are often thought to be among the rarest of human illnesses, but that is not precisely the case. Many autoimmune conditions are easily recognized conditions. One of them, diabetes mellitus (type 1 diabetes) is, along with type 2 diabetes, No. 7 on the list of U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s list of most common causes of death. In addition, diabetes is a significant risk contributor for heart disease and stroke, which are listed as No. 1 and No. 5, respectively, on the list of most common causes of death.
What is an autoimmune disease?
The body’s immune system includes several processes the body uses to heal or to ward off infections and illnesses. An autoimmune disease, unfortunately, defines conditions in which the immune system attacks the host, sometimes in life-threatening ways. Here are five common autoimmune disorders and the concerns that go along with them.
1. Type 1 diabetes
Type 1 diabetes is a lifelong condition that begins when the immune system attacks the pancreas, which is the gland that produces insulin. Insulin is a hormone that helps control glucose (sugar) levels in the bloodstream. Without insulin, blood sugar levels climb. This can cause immediate damage to the nervous system, including your eyes, and the cardiovascular system. Moreover, when a person’s blood sugar levels are high repeatedly or over a long-term, the damage can be devastating with permanent nerve damage and higher risks of heart attacks and stroke.
2. Rheumatoid arthritis
Separate from osteoarthritis, which is associated with aging, and rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disorder that can occur at a much younger age – generally 30-years of age or younger. It is caused when the immune system mistakenly attacks someone’s joints.
Swollen, sore and stiff joints mark this condition, which often turns the area around the joint red and sometimes noticeably warm. Rheumatoid arthritis often includes flare-ups and periods of remission, but over time the damage can be crippling. It can result in chronic pain and debilitating deformity.
3. Psoriatic arthritis
Yet another form of arthritis, psoriatic arthritis, is a condition marked by overly rapid skin cell growth. This can be an annoying condition when it is limited to flaking skin that often occurs at a person’s scalp. However, a third of the people with psoriasis develop a far more damaging version of the condition, which includes pain in the joints. This is known as psoriatic arthritis.
4. Graves’s disease
The immune system can also attack a gland in the neck called the thyroid. This creates a hyperactive thyroid condition called Graves’ disease. This results in numerous problems, including weight loss, nervousness, a racing heartbeat and intolerance to heat. The reason: Hormones from the thyroid control of your metabolism. When there is too much of this in your system, various systems begin to rev up.
About a third of those with Grave’ disease also develop exophthalmoses or bulging eyes. Some experience hair loss, itching, and difficulty concentrating. Breast development can occur for some men. Nausea and vomiting are also common.
Vitiligo is a common autoimmune that occurs when your immune system attacks the pigmentation in your skin. The result is white or pale patches of skin that occur in unusual or unsightly blotches. The condition can also cause premature graying.
Vitiligo is more visible if you have darker skin. Some people prefer cosmetics to hide the patches of pale skin, especially if the condition affects their face. It is recommended that sunscreen be used if you have this condition, which can remain stagnant for long periods. Then, without warning, the white patches could begin to grow or appear in other parts of the body.