What is an Autoimmune disease?

What is an autoimmune disease?

An autoimmune disease is a condition where the body’s immune system turns on itself, instead of protecting the body.

‘Auto’ in auto-immune comes from the Greek word auto meaning ‘self’, thus ‘autoimmune’ diseases are diseases where the immune system targets ‘self’, i.e. its own body.

There are many different types of autoimmune disease, depending on which part of the body has been targeted by the immune system.

Why do we get autoimmune diseases?

We don’t really understand in medicine why certain people get autoimmune diseases. There are theories that the immune system is somehow ‘triggered’ to make antibodies against the tissues of its own body, but we don’t quite understand why or how this happens. There are some theories that things can be triggered by some sort of infection.

The immune system usually makes antibodies as part of its self defence. However, sometimes the immune system can also make antibodies to its own body. These are known as ‘auto antibodies’.

‘Auto’ comes from the Greek meaning ‘self’.

Antibodies are a key part of the immune process directing inflammation in particular areas.

If there are autoantibodies, they can be involved in directing inflammation in the body.

However, not everybody with these autoantibodies actually develops an autoimmune disease so it is not entirely clear what is going on here!

Are there different types of autoimmune diseases?

Yes there are different types of autoimmune diseases. In fact it is said that there are about 80 different sorts of known autoimmune diseases!

The field of Rheumatology doesn’t deal with every autoimmune disease.

Rheumatology deals with autoimmune connective tissues disease, or in plain language, autoimmune diseases affecting the connective tissues such as joints.

Diseases such as Lupus, Vasculitis, and Dermatomyositis and Rheumatoid Arthritis are classic autoimmune diseases that Rheumatologists treat.

There are other autoimmune diseases where organs are affected such as the thyroid, and the pancreas with Type 1 Diabetes. These diseases have a more specialised management in the field of endocrinology, whereas diseases such as Myasthenia and Multiple Sclerosis would be treated by Neurologists.

The impact of autoimmune diseases depends on which part of the body is affected, and that will also guide the type of specialist consulting.