Your immune system protects you from disease by sensing pathogens and creating specific cells to target them. For most people, the immune system can tell the difference between the body’s cells and foreign cells. Autoimmune diseases occur when your body’s immune system mistakenly attacks and damages healthy cells in your body. Keep reading to find out more about common autoimmune diseases as well as their signs and symptoms.

What Is an Autoimmune Disease?

blood samples and tests for an autoimmune diseaseAn autoimmune disease is a condition that involves your immune system mistaking parts of your body as foreign and releasing proteins called antibodies to attack those healthy cells. Some autoimmune diseases only target one specific organ while others can affect your entire body. It is unclear exactly what causes this misfire of the immune system, but it is clear that some people are more likely to get an autoimmune disease than others. Some factors that may increase your risk of developing an autoimmune disease include your sex, family history, environmental factors, ethnicity, nutrition, and the presence of other health conditions.

What Are Common Symptoms of Autoimmune Diseases

Many autoimmune conditions have similar symptoms early on. These may include:

  • Fatigue
  • Low-grade fever
  • Lightheadedness or dizziness
  • Swelling
  • Muscle aches
  • Numbness or tingling in your extremities
  • Trouble concentrating
  • Skin rash
  • Hair loss

Individual autoimmune diseases may also present their own unique signs and symptoms that are determined by the part of the body affected. Some autoimmune diseases may cause symptoms that come and go with alternating periods of flare-ups and remission.

Common Autoimmune Diseases

More than 100 autoimmune diseases have been identified by researchers. Some of these are very rare, while others are more common. Below are some of the most common autoimmune diseases and how they can affect your body.

1. Type 1 Diabetes

girl with type 1 diabetes giving herself an insulin shotType 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disease where your immune system destroys cells in your pancreas. The pancreas is responsible for producing the hormone insulin, which helps regulate blood sugar. Type 1 diabetes causes high blood sugar and can damage your blood vessels and organs such as your kidneys, eyes, heart, and nerves.

2. Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA)

If you have rheumatoid arthritis, or RA, your immune system is attacking your joints. You may experience symptoms such as swelling, stiffness, soreness, and warmth in your joints. RA most commonly affects people as they get older, but you can also start experiencing symptoms of it as young as your 30s. Juvenile idiopathic arthritis is a related condition that can begin in childhood.

3. Psoriasis and Psoriatic Arthritis

An autoimmune disease that affects the skin is psoriasis. This condition causes skin cells to multiply too quickly, creating a build up of extra cells that form into inflamed patches. If you have a lighter skin tone, these patches may look red with silver-while scales. If you have a darker skin tone, they may look purplish or dark brown with gray scales. Approximate 30 percent of people with psoriasis may also develop psoriatic arthritis, which causes joint symptoms such as pain, swelling, and stiffness.

4. Multiple Sclerosis (MS)

Multiple sclerosis ribbon next to drawing of brainMultiple sclerosis, or MS, is an autoimmune disease that affects your central nervous system. The immune system damages the myelin sheath, which is the protective coating around your nerve cells. This slows the speed of transmission between the brain and spinal cord to and from other parts of the body. MS may cause weakness, numbness, balance issues, and trouble walking. 

5. Systemic Lupus Erythematosus (SLE)

Lupus was first described in the 1800s as a skin disease because it commonly causes a rash. However, the most common systemic form affects many organs, such as the heart, kidneys, brain, and joints. Common symptoms of systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) may include rashes, fatigue, and joint pain.

6. Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD)

Inflammatory bowel disease, or IBD, describes autoimmune diseases that cause inflammation in the lining of your intestinal wall. The types of IBD affect different parts of the gastrointestinal tract. Ulcerative colitis is a type of IBD that affects the lining of the colon, or large intestine, and rectum. Crohn’s disease can cause inflammation in any part of your GI tract, including everything from the mouth to the anus. The most common symptoms of IBD may include abdominal pain, diarrhea, and bleeding ulcers.

7. Addison’s Disease

stethoscope on model of adrenal glands on kidneysAn autoimmune disease that damages the adrenal glands is Addison’s disease. The adrenal glands are responsible for producing the hormones cortisol, aldosterone, and androgen. Insufficient cortisol can affect your body’s ability to store and use carbohydrates and glucose. Insufficient aldosterone can cause sodium loss and too much potassium in your blood. If you have Addison’s disease, you may experience fatigue, weakness, low blood sugar, and weight loss.

8. Graves’ Disease

Graves’ disease affects the thyroid gland, which is located in your neck and produces hormones that control your body’s metabolism. This autoimmune disease can cause your thyroid to produce too much of its hormones. High levels of these hormones can spike your body’s activities, leading to symptoms such as rapid heart rate, weight loss, heat intolerance, and swelling of the thyroid. Graves’ disease can also affect your skin (Graves’ dermopathy) or your eyes (Graves’ ophthalmopathy).

9. Hoshimoto’s Thyroiditis

Another autoimmune disease that damages the thyroid gland is Hoshimoto’s Thyroiditis. This disease causes your thyroid hormone production to slow to a deficiency. Hoshimoto’s thyroiditis may cause symptoms such as weight gain, fatigue, hair loss, sensitivity to cold, and swelling of the thyroid.

10. Celiac Disease

woman with celiac disease holding stomach next to slices of breadCeliac disease is an autoimmune disease that affects your ability to eat gluten. Gluten is a protein found in wheat, rye, and other grain products. In individuals with celiac disease, the immune system attacks the small intestine when gluten enters it. This causes inflammation and digestive issues. If you have celiac disease, you may experience symptoms such as diarrhea, vomiting, constipation, and abdominal bleeding.

Schedule an Appointment at the Institute for Progressive Medicine

Now you know more about the signs and symptoms of some of the most common autoimmune diseases. As you can see, the symptoms of autoimmune diseases often overlap. If you know or suspect that you may have an autoimmune disease, you may benefit from certain treatments and therapies to mitigate your symptoms. If you are interested in learning more about ways to manage and heal your health conditions, please schedule a consultation at the Institute for Progressive Medicine so we can dive deeper into the underlying causes and formulate a personalized treatment plan to help you become a healthier you!