Autoimmune diseases are disorders that develop when the immune system malfunctions, often attacking healthy tissue instead of focusing on germs and other pathogens.
Although doctors know autoimmune diseases occur as a result of immune system dysfunction, the causes of that dysfunction are not well understood. Most researchers agree autoimmune diseases are probably caused by a combination of factors including diet, lifestyle habits, environmental exposures and genetic factors. The gastrointestinal tract plays a major role in immune system function, and issues affecting these organs and functions can have a significant bearing on the development of autoimmune diseases.
There are dozens of autoimmune diseases. The most common diseases include:
Specific symptoms can vary dramatically based on the specific disease. Some of the more common general symptoms include:
Because there are so many different types of autoimmune diseases, treatment begins with a comprehensive exam to understand the extent of the symptoms and their progression. A complete personal and family medical history are important for identifying symptoms and determining any genetic conditions related to autoimmune diseases or other diseases that can cause similar symptoms. Lab testing including blood work and urinalysis can also play a pivotal role in diagnosis and management. Testing for food sensitivities may also help. Following diagnosis, treatment can include:
Treatment will need to be customized to suit the needs of the individual patient, and frequent follow-up visits will help ensure the plan remains on track as the patient’s needs evolve.