7 common autoimmune diseases - and how they affect the body's immune system

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Autoimmune diseases are a group of diseases where the body's own immune system mistakenly attacks and damages the body's own tissues and organs. In Sweden, as throughout the world, these diseases affect millions of people and can have a significant impact on the quality of life.

Autoimmune disease

An autoimmune disease is a form of disease in which the body's own immune system, which is normally designed to protect the body against harmful invaders such as viruses and bacteria, mistakenly begins to attack and damage the body's own tissues, organs or cells. Instead of recognizing these structures as part of the body, the immune system perceives them as foreign and dangerous. This incorrect reaction can lead to inflammation, damage and sometimes organ failure.

The exact way autoimmune diseases develop is complicated and varies depending on the disease. Research suggests that genetics play a role, meaning that some people may have an increased tendency to develop autoimmune diseases due to hereditary factors. Environmental factors, such as exposure to infections or certain chemicals, can also trigger or influence the development of autoimmune diseases in people with genetic vulnerability.

Common autoimmune diseases

There are approximately 80 different autoimmune diseases that can affect different parts of the body, including joints, thyroid, skin, nerves, blood vessels and more. Here are seven common autoimmune diseases.

1. Rheumatoid arthritis (RA)

Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disease that affects the joints and can lead to pain, stiffness and swelling. The immune system attacks the synovial membrane of the joints, which can lead to joint destruction and functional impairment. RA can also affect other organs and cause general fatigue.

2. Hashimoto's thyroiditis

Hashimoto's thyroiditis is an autoimmune disease that affects the thyroid gland. The immune system attacks the thyroid gland and causes inflammation, which can lead to hypothyroidism (underactive thyroid). Symptoms include fatigue, weight gain and sensitivity to cold.

3. Type 1 diabetes

Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disease in which the immune system attacks and destroys the insulin-producing cells in the pancreas. This results in high blood sugar levels and requires lifelong insulin treatment. If you are worried about having high blood sugar levels, it may be a good idea to test your values and get an answer as to whether you have or are at risk of diabetes.

4. Lupus (systemic lupus erythematosus)

Lupus is an autoimmune disease that can affect various organs and tissues in the body, including the skin, joints, kidneys and heart. The disease can vary in severity and symptoms, including fatigue, skin rash and joint pain.

5. Celiac disease

Celiac is an autoimmune disease that affects the intestine when a person consumes gluten. The immune system's reaction to gluten damages the intestinal lining and can lead to stomach problems, weight loss and nutritional deficiencies. Symptoms suggestive of gluten can be tested through a blood test that measures Transglutaminase antibodies of IgA.

6. Multiple sclerosis (MS)

Multiple sclerosis is an autoimmune disease that affects the nervous system by damaging the protective myelin around nerve cells. This can lead to a host of neurological symptoms that include impaired balance, muscle weakness and cognitive impairment.

7. Psoriasis

Psoriasis is an autoimmune disease that affects the skin and can cause red, scaly patches on the skin's surface. It is a chronic disease with periods of aggravation and relief.

How are autoimmune diseases treated

The treatment of autoimmune diseases can vary depending on the disease and its severity. Many autoimmune diseases are managed with medication to reduce the immune system's reaction and inflammation, but in some cases organ transplantation may be necessary.

Autoimmune diseases can be chronic and require lifelong follow-up and management. It is important to seek medical attention if you suspect you have an autoimmune disease or if you have any symptoms that worry you. A doctor can perform tests and make an accurate diagnosis to determine the right course of treatment and management.

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