When The Body Attacks Itself - Autoimmune Diseases and You

People throw out the term 'autoimmune" disorders often. It seems more people are suffering from these diseases. There are over 80 autoimmune disorders that affect humans.

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When The Body Attacks Itself - Autoimmune Diseases and You
4 Min Read July 28th, 2021

There might be a major conflict within your body or the body of a loved one. When a person has an autoimmune disease, they have a condition in which the immune system mistakenly attacks your body. 

Your body is usually on guard, protecting us from the dangers of a virus or infection. When the body senses danger it goes to war as white blood cells produce antibodies to attack the invading virus or infection. However, when you suffer from an autoimmune disease, the opposite happens as antibodies attack healthy tissues instead of the harmful ones.

According to the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, there are more than eighty conditions that occur due to the immune system attacking your own organs, tissues, and cells. These diseases are chronic and debilitating. The result is high medical costs, reduced quality of life, and long-term care placing a burden on individuals and their families. 

What are the Symptoms?

Most autoimmune diseases cause redness, heat, pain, and swelling and can often affect more than one part of the body. Symptoms will vary depending on which parts of the body are being affected by the disease. 

It seems that autoimmune diseases are getting more common. In a study published April 2020 in Arthritis and Rheumatology, the researchers found that the most common biomarker of autoimmunity had significantly increased in the United States overall, particularly in certain groups. These groups include males, non-Hispanic whites, adults 50 years and older, and adolescents. 

Dr. Frederick Miller, deputy chief of the Clinical Research Branch at the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS), part of NIH, says it is unclear why these biomarkers are increasing but could suggest a future increase in autoimmune disease.

"These findings could help us understand more about the causes of these immune abnormalities and possibly learn what drives (the) development of autoimmune diseases and how to prevent them," Dr. Miller explained.

The National Institutes of Health share some of the most common symptoms of autoimmune diseases:

  • Joint pain and stiffness.
  • Thyroid problems that can cause a person to be tired, experience weight gain, and have muscle aches.
  • Skin rashes, blisters, and changes in skin color.

infographic with anatomy images describing symptoms

More Than 80 Autoimmune Diseases are Known to Science

According to research, women get autoimmune diseases at a rate of about 2 to 1 compared to men. There are more than 80 known autoimmune diseases known to science. 

Nearly 4% of the world's population is affected by one or more of these conditions. Some of the most common autoimmune diseases include:

  •  Addison disease
  •  Autoimmune Hepatitis 
  •  Celiac disease  
  •  Chronic inflammatory demyelinating polyneuropathy
  •  Fibromyalgia  
  •  Grave's disease  
  •  Guillain-Barre syndrome  
  •  Hashimoto thyroiditis  
  •  Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD)  
  •  Multiple Sclerosis (MS)  
  •  Myasthenia Gravis  
  •  Pernicious anemia  
  •  Psoriasis  
  •  Reactive arthritis  
  •  Rheumatoid arthritis  
  •  Sjogren’s syndrome  
  •  Systemic Lupus Erythematosus  
  •  Type 1 diabetes mellitus  

See a complete list - Autoimmune Disease List • AARDA 

No Cure – But Treatment for Autoimmune Problems Available

People with autoimmune problems often have other health problems as well. John Hopkins University says that some families have multiple members affected by different autoimmune diseases. Yet, medical researchers say genetics is not the only indicator of whether a person may develop an autoimmune disorder. 

There is no cure for any autoimmune disease. However, doctors can treat it by controlling the overactive immune response and bring down inflammation. The treatment, in some cases, can reduce pain and inflammation.

There is an increased prevalence of autoimmunity and autoantibodies as we get older. Older adults are more susceptible to viral and bacterial infections as well. Complications between overall health and autoimmune disorders lead to disability and the need for long-term health care services. 

Autoimmune Disorders May Lead to Needing Extended Care

If you already have an autoimmune problem, you may not be eligible for Long-Term Care Insurance, depending on the type and severity. Be sure to speak with a specialist who understands the underwriting criteria at all the major companies. Keep in mind, if you are already having substantial health and mobility problems, your options may be limited, at best.

Long-term health care costs are mostly not covered by health insurance and Medicare. However, Medicaid and Long-Term Care Insurance will provide benefits. With Medicaid, you must have little or no income or assets to qualify for this government program. You can't purchase Long-Term Care Insurance once you require care, so it must be purchased when you have relatively good health, usually in your 40s or 50s ideally.

If you or a loved one has been diagnosed with an autoimmune disorder or thinks you may have symptoms, be sure to see a doctor. You do not want to leave an autoimmune disorder untreated.

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About the Author

Linda Kople is a freelance writer with a personal family history in long-term care. She specializes in aging-related topics such as caregiving, health, and retirement planning. Her experiences and interests drive her to explore and write about the various aspects of aging and health issues.

LTC News Contributor Linda Kople

Linda Kople

Contributor since October 31st, 2017

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