Imagine if your body was attacking itself for no apparent reason. Pretty scary huh? Well, sadly this can happen to people suffering from autoimmune diseases — chronic illnesses that arise from a body’s abnormal response to destroy substances normally present in its tissues. Once you have an autoimmune disorder, unfortunately, you’re stuck with it for life, but most can be managed with diet and medication. Here are 10 different ways your body’s immune system can attack itself.
It is often the brunt of jokes, but for those affected by this chronic disorder that results from the body’s immune system attacking the brain, narcolepsy is no laughing manner. People with narcolepsy have problems controlling their sleep-wake cycles and can literally fall asleep on their feet at anytime. Although there is no cure, the condition can be managed with medication — doctors usually prescribe some type of stimulant to reduce the number of “sleep attacks.”
This autoimmune disease causes the body’s immune system to accidentally attack health tissue like the skin, joints, kidneys, brain and heart. Its underlying cause is not fully known, according to the National Institute of Health, but it is much more common in women then men, and also attacks African Americans and Asians more than other ethnicities.
Addison’s Disease causes the adrenal glands to produce insufficient cortisol for the body to function properly. Symptoms include weight loss, muscle weakness, darkening of the skin in spots, nausea, diarrhea or vomiting and salt cravings . If left untreated, Addison’s can cause adrenal failure which can be life threatening. Addison’s affect’s people of all ages and doesn’t discriminate by race or sex. The good news is you can take hormones to manage the chronic disorder.
If you get sick every time you eat bread or pasta or drink a beer you might have an allergy to gluten, the protein found in wheat, barley and rye. When people with celiac disease eat gluten it triggers an inflammatory immune response in their small intestines that doesn’t allow the body to process this protein. Over time, if you keep eating glutenous foods, your brain, nervous system, bones, liver and other vital organs become starved for proper nourishment. There is no cure or medicine to take for celiac disease, but cutting out all sources of gluten from your diet helps keep symptoms at bay — and many restaurants offer gluten-free menus these days!
This suspected autoimmune disorder causes inflammation in blood vessels throughout the body with symptoms ranging from skin lesions to blindness. Behcet’s is a rare disorder and its exact cause is unknown but both genetic and environmental factors may be responsible.
With Crohn’s Disease the body’s immune system attacks the gastrointenstial tract causing painful GI symptoms like persistent diarrhea, stomach cramping, rectal bleeding and constipation. The disease can strike at any age, but is most common among people between the ages of 15 and 35 and affects upwards of 700,000 Americans per year. There is no cure for Crohn’s, but it can be managed with a combination of medication and diet.
When your body’s immune system mistakenly attacks your joints this is called rheumatoid arthritis (RA). About 1.5 million people in the U.S. live with this chronic disease that affects nearly three times as many women as men. Symptoms vary but usually include pain, fatigue and warm, swollen, reddish joints. The disease can be managed with medication.
Unlike type II diabetes, which affects 95 percent of diabetics and is correlated with obesity, people with type I diabetes don’t develop the disease because of unhealthy eating habits. Instead it manifests when a person’s immune system attacks the pancreas, not allowing it to produce the insulin hormone necessary for converting sugar and starch into energy. This type of diabetes is usually diagnosed in children and young adults and can be managed with medication.
Some 4 million Americans — 90 percent of them women — suffer from Sjögren’s Syndrome. One of the most prevalent chronic autoimmune disorders, it causes white blood cells to attack the moisture-making glands. Hallmark symptoms include dry eyes and mouth.
In this rare disease the body’s cartilage is believed to be attacked by the immune system, typically around the ears, nose and joints. Symptoms include redness, pain, swelling and tenderness in one or both ears, the nose, throat, joints and eyes. It can be managed with medication.
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