An autoimmune disease is a pathological state arising from an abnormal immune response of the body to substances and tissues that are normally present in the body. Autoimmune disease affects up to 50 million Americans, according to the American Autoimmune Related Diseases Association (AARDA). There are as many as 80 types of autoimmune diseases. Many of them have similar symptoms, which makes them very difficult to diagnose. Autoimmune diseases can affect almost any part of the body, including the heart, brain, nerves, muscles, skin, eyes, joints, lungs, kidneys, glands, the digestive tract, and blood vessels.
Signs, symptoms and treatments
Symptoms vary depending on the disorder and the part of the body affected. Some autoimmune disorders affect certain types of tissue throughout the body—for example, blood vessels, cartilage, or skin. Other autoimmune disorders affect a particular organ. Virtually any organ, including the kidneys, lungs, heart, and brain, can be affected. The resulting inflammation and tissue damage can cause pain, deformed joints, weakness, jaundice, itching, difficulty breathing, accumulation of fluid (edema), delirium, and even death. The treatment of autoimmune diseases is typically with immunosuppression medication that decreases the immune response. New novel treatments include Cytokine blockade (or the blockade of cytokine signaling pathways), removal of effector T-cells and B-cells (e.g. anti-CD20 therapy can be effective at removing instigating B-cells). Intravenous Immunoglobulin has been helpful in treating some antibody mediated autoimmune diseases as well, possibly through negative feedback mechanisms.
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