An autoimmune disease is a medical condition characterized by an overactive immune system which attacks the body, mistaking normal tissues in the body for harmful substances. A huge number of genetic and acquired conditions fall under the umbrella of autoimmune diseases, and there are a number of approaches to treatment and management. People with such conditions usually require medical treatment for life, often from a team of doctors who can provide support from several different angles of approach.
Normally, the immune system is used to identify harmful substances by locking on to antigens on their surface. Once the immune system identifies something which should not be in the body, it sends an army of white blood cells to destroy it before it has a chance to hurt the body. In people with an autoimmune disease, the immune system mistakenly identifies part of the body as a dangerous antigen, and it begins to attack the body's own connective tissue, glands, skin, nerves, or blood vessels.
Some examples of this condition include: Wegener's disease, scleroderma, alopecia areata, multiple scelorsis, Graves' disease, Hashimoto's disase, lupus, interstitial cystitis, Crohn's disease, and Chagas disease, among many others. Some of these diseases are the result of exposure to various pathogens, while others are genetic in nature, and some simply appear one day, for no apparent reason. These conditions can cause a variety of related health problems, including fatigue, endocrine dysfunction, digestive difficulty, and changes in skin color or texture.
The first step in treatment is an accurate diagnosis to explore the cause behind the immune system's activity. Patients are also often given immunosuppressive drugs which will reduce the activity of the immune system so that it cannot cause additional damage. Supportive medications such as hormones may be used to compensate for damage caused by the immune system, and the patient may also need to engage in physical therapy, or to modify his or her diet and lifestyle to cope with changes caused by the autoimmune disease.
These diseases can be very frustrating and difficult to manage. The drugs used to control them can have serious side effects, and many patients suffer as a result of needing to take very expensive and intense drugs for their entire lives to keep the disease under control. These diseases can also cause friction in workplaces and schools as people try to lead normal lives with a chronic autoimmune disease which can sometimes make it difficult to engage in ordinary tasks.