March Is Autoimmune Disease Awareness Month
When an intruder invades your body like a cold virus or bacteria on a thorn that pricks your skin—your immune system protects you. It tries to identify, kill and eliminate the invaders that might hurt you. But sometimes problems with your immune system cause it to mistake your body’s own healthy cells as invaders and then repeatedly attack them. This is called an autoimmune disease.
Your immune system is a network of cells and tissues throughout your body that works together to defend you from invasion and infection. You can think of it as having two parts: the acquired and the innate immune systems. Autoimmune diseases refer to problems with the acquired immune system’s reactions. In an autoimmune reaction, antibodies, and immune cells target the body’s own healthy tissues by mistake, signaling the body to attack them repeatedly.
The classic signs and symptoms of autoimmune disease are inflammation, which can cause redness, heat, pain, and swelling. How an autoimmune disease affects you depends on what parts of the body are targeted: i.e.
If the disease affects the joints, as in Rheumatoid Arthritis, you might have joint pain, stiffness, and loss of function. If it affects the thyroid, as in Grave’s Disease and thyroiditis, it might cause tiredness, weight gain, and muscle aches. If it attacks the skin, as it does in Scleroderma / Systemic Sclerosis, Vitiligo, and Systemic Lupus Erythematosus (SLE), it can cause rashes, blisters, and color changes. No one is sure what causes autoimmune diseases. In most cases, a combination of factors is probably at work. For example, you might have a genetic tendency to develop a disease and then, under the right conditions, an outside invader like a virus might trigger it.
The immune system is the human body’s most important line of defense against the many infection-causing pathogens that we encounter every day. White blood cells, originating from stem cells in our bone marrow, patrol the body like microscopic soldiers, finding and destroying hostile organisms like bacteria, parasites, and viruses.
There are more than 100 Autoimmune Diseases, these diseases can affect one, ten, one hundred, or a million or more people.