SEVERE AUTOIMMUNE DISORDERS
An autoimmune disorder occurs when the body’s immune system attacks and destroys healthy body tissue by mistake. There are currently more than 80 known types of autoimmune disorders. The blood cells in the body’s immune system help protect it against the threat of harmful substances, such as bacteria, toxins, viruses, cancer cells, and blood and tissue from outside the body. All these aforementioned substances contain antigens. In response to these harmful antigens, the immune system responds by producing antibodies to fight and destroy these harmful substances.
However, when you have an autoimmune disorder, your immune system cannot distinguish between healthy tissue and antigens. As a result, the body sets off a chain reaction that destroys normal cell tissues.
WHAT CAUSES AUTOIMMUNE DISORDERS?
The exact cause of autoimmune disorders is unknown. One theory is that some microorganisms (such as bacteria or viruses) or drugs may trigger changes that confuse the immune system and cause it to go haywire. This may happen more often in people who have genes that make them more predisposed to developing autoimmune disorders.
SYMPTOMS OF AUTOIMMUNE DISORDERS
If you are experiencing a combination of the following symptoms, you may have an autoimmune disease.
- Joint pain or musclepain, weakness or a tremor
- Weight loss, insomnia, heat intolerance or rapid heartbeat
- Recurrent rashes or hives, sun-sensitivity, a butterfly-shaped rash across your nose and cheeks
- Difficulty concentrating or gaining focus
- Feeling tired or fatigued, cold intolerance or weight gain
- Hair loss or white patches on your skin or inside your mouth
- Mouth ulcers, abdominal pain, blood or mucus in your stool
- Dry eyes, mouth or skin
- Numbness or tingling sensation in the hands or feet
- Multiple miscarriages or blood clots
TREATMENT OPTIONS AVAILABLE FOR AUTOIMMUNE DISORDERS
The goals of treating autoimmune disorders include:
- Reducing symptoms
- Controlling the autoimmune process
- Maintaining the body’s ability to fight disease
The chosen treatments will depend on your disease and symptoms. Types of treatments include:
- Supplements to replace substances that the body is lacking, such as thyroid hormone, vitamin B12, or insulin, due to the autoimmune disorder
- Blood transfusions if your blood is affected
- Physical therapy to help with movement if your muscles, bones or joints are affected
Many people also take medicine to reduce the immune system’s abnormal response. These are often called immunosuppressive medicines. Some examples of these include corticosteroids (such as prednisone) and nonsteroid drugs such as azathioprine, cyclophosphamide, mycophenolate, sirolimus, or tacrolimus. Targeted drugs called tumours necrosis factor (TFN) blockers can also be used for some diseases.
DIAGNOSING AUTOIMMUNE DISORDERS
Although a doctor may suspect a patient has leukemia based on a number of signs and symptoms, it can only be diagnosed using laboratory tests.
- Physical exam & history taking: Your doctor will discuss the symptoms with you, take the medical history and do a physical exam to find signs of the condition.
- Blood tests: Your doctor may order the following blood tests in order to help him/her diagnose your condition:
Antinuclear antibody tests
Comprehensive metabolic panel
Complete blood count (CBC)
C-reactive protein (CRP)
Erythrocyte sedimentation rate (ESR)