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What are autoimmune diseases? What are autoimmune diseases?
Autoimmune disorders occur when there is a malfunction in our body's immune system. At the center of our immune system are cells whose... What are autoimmune diseases?

by Kimberly Allen R.N.

Autoimmune disorders occur when there is a malfunction in our body’s immune system.  At the center of our immune system are cells whose specific job is to recognize the “good guys” or healthy tissue/cells, and the “bad guys” the invaders.  When one of these cells malfunctions it is unable to tell the difference between healthy tissue and invaders.  A malfunction can occur in any cell at any time affecting most every part of the body.  There are over 80 currently know types of autoimmune disorders.  There are more than 23.5 million Americans suffering with one or more autoimmune disorder.

Autoimmune disorders happen when white blood cells attack healthy tissues in the body.

The cause of auto immune disorders remains unknown, however, there is some evidence of a genetic connection as well as a combination of other factors. For example, women are affected more than men and exposure to certain environmental conditions like excessive sunlight, chemicals and infections.  There are also certain autoimmune disorders that affect different races or ethnic background, such as type 1 diabetes is more prevalent in white patients and Lupus tends to be more severe in African American and Hispanic patients.  Also, patients with an existing autoimmune disorder are at greater risk for getting another.

While the symptoms of autoimmune disorders vary from disorder to disorder. Depending on the part or parts of the body affected there are classic symptoms the most common being inflammation with heat, redness, and pain that are an indication that an autoimmune disorder may exist.

There is no one test that diagnoses an autoimmune disorder.  Some are much more difficult to diagnose than others.  For example, diagnosing type 1 diabetes or hashimotos disease is much easier than diagnosing lupus or raynauds disease.

Treatment for the most part depends on the type of autoimmune disorder diagnosed, however, the main goal in all cases is to reduce inflammation.  Prolonged inflammation causes tissue damage, damage that in many cases can not be reversed.  The most commonly prescribed medications to reduce the inflammation are corticosteroids and immunosupressants like prednisone.

Many people are turning to some form of alternative and complimentary treatments to help control their symptoms.  These include herbal remedies, chiropractic, accupuncture and hypnosis are the most common.  There is limited clinical data documenting the effectiveness of CAM treatments so it’s important to discuss any treatments you are considering with your doctor before beginning any new treatment.

The most important thing you can do to achieve the most benefit from the treatments currently available is to first find a doctor that specializes in treating your particular disorder.  Then research, research, research!  Learn as much as you can about your specific disorder.  The more you know the better equipped you are to participate in your plan of care.

Another significant part of care is establishing a support system.  Autoimmune disorders are chronic illnesses that usually start in mid adulthood, a time when most patients are also trying to raise children and build a career, this causes stress, anxiety and depression.  It’s important to know that you’re not alone.  There are numerous organizations available to help with support, information, and referrals.

Kimberly Allen is a registered nurse with an AND in nursing. She has worked in ACF, LCF and psychiatric facilities, although she spent most of her career as a home health expert. She is now a regular contributor to, dispensing advice and knowledge about medical issues and questions. You can reach her with any comments or questions at