Autoimmune Diseases Are More Prevalent Than Ever! Here’s What You Should Know about Them

“Numbers of autoimmune cases began to increase about 40 years ago in the west. However, we are now seeing some emerge in countries that never had such diseases before,” world expert James Lee at London’s Francis Crick Institute told The Observer. “Human genetics hasn’t altered over the past few decades. So something must be changing in the outside world in a way that is increasing our predisposition to autoimmune disease.”

According to the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, an autoimmune disease occurs when an immune system malfunctions and it starts attacking healthy cells, tissues, and organs by mistake.

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Today, more than 80 autoimmune diseases have been identified, with experts blaming the Western diet for the rise of these disorders worldwide.

The proliferation of fast-food restaurants has largely contributed to the problem due to their unhealthy foods. The lack of certain nutrients can throw a person’s gut microbiome out of balance, triggering an autoimmune disease. But acquiring this disorder also depends on a person’s genetic susceptibility, as explained by Carola Vinuesa, another world expert at the Francis Crick Institute with her own research group that’s conducting its own study on the fundamental genetic mechanisms that are behind the development of autoimmune diseases.

Further, according to the National Institutes of Health, “The larger number of genes originating from the X chromosome creates a far greater possibility of a larger number of mutations occurring. This puts women at a greater risk for the development of autoimmune diseases solely due to women having two X chromosomes, whereas men possess only one.”

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Here’s a list of common autoimmune diseases from WebMD:

  • Rheumatoid Arthritis. This disorder afflicts a person’s joints, causing pain and swelling. Chronic inflammation can damage the bones and cartilage, inhibiting movement. RA may also impact the heart and lungs. But symptoms and disease progression can be treated with medication.
  • Ankylosing Spondylitis. Another type of arthritis that affects a person’s spine, along with other parts of the body, such as the neck, chest, knees, and hips. Common symptoms are stiffness and pain. Bones may eventually join together, making movement very difficult. Along with medicines, exercises and stretches are generally part of its treatment. Damaged joints may need surgery.
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  • Type 1 Diabetes. This condition usually begins with children and teenagers. The immune system targets and kills the cells of the pancreas that are responsible for insulin production. There is no cure for this autoimmune disease, but it can be managed by continuous monitoring of glucose levels and insulin injections.
  • Multiple Sclerosis (MS). Chronic inflammation causes damage to the central nervous system. There’s a build-up of scar tissue along the network that carries nerve signals from the brain to other body parts. This results in pain, problems with movement and coordination, and weakness. Medicines can ease the symptoms and may slow down the progression of the disease.
  • Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD). This autoimmune disorder includes Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis (UC). The immune system attacks a person’s intestines, which become inflamed, causing swelling and belly pain. Anti-inflammatory drugs, antibiotics, and other medicines are generally prescribed. Surgery may be another option, depending on the severity of the condition, but it’s not a treatment for the underlying cause of the chronic inflammation.
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  • Lupus. This autoimmune disease afflicts several parts of the body simultaneously. Joint pain, kidney troubles, sensitivity to light, and fatigue are among its common symptoms. Rash may also appear over the cheeks and nose. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) and steroids can improve the condition, while disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs (DMARDs) may prevent it from worsening. If the disorder is very serious, more potent drugs may be prescribed along with chemotherapy.
  • Addison’s Disease. When your body’s defense mechanism attacks and damages the adrenal glands, it affects the production of certain hormones. This may cause your body to have a problem in converting food into fuel. This can destabilize blood pressure and wreak havoc on other body functions. Hormone replacement is part of its treatment.
  • Graves’ Disease. This type of autoimmune disorder may cause overproduction of hormones in the thyroid gland, a condition called hyperthyroidism. Among its symptoms are weight loss, shaking, anxiety, and slightly bulging eyes. Drugs may help, along with surgery if the condition is severe.
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  • Hashimoto’s Disease. Also known as chronic lymphocytic thyroiditis, this condition causes lower hormone production that results in weight gain, fatigue, sensitivity to cold, and hair fall-out, along with other symptoms. Hormones may be replaced by medicine to ease symptoms.
  • Alopecia Areata. In this case, the immune system attacks hair follicles, which can lead to partial or total loss of body hair. Medicines can help body hair to regrow and slow down the illness.
  • Myasthenia Gravis. This disease affects the signals between nerves and muscles, leading to weakness and difficulty in movement coordination. Eye problems may occur first, followed by changes in facial expression and the way you talk, swallow, and chew. Drugs and surgery may help.
  • Photo: YouTube/SingHealth
  • Guillain-Barré Syndrome (GBS). The nerve network gets damaged by this autoimmune disease. Limbs may experience weakness and tingling sensation, and the body becomes insenstive to pain or heat. Plasma exchange is the solution to this condition.
  • Psoriasis. Due to chronic inflammation, skin cells develop rapidly, causing thick and red patches that are either itchy or sore. Creams and UV light may help in treating symptoms, along with medicine to calm the immune system. Some persons with this illness are also afflicted by psoriatic arthritis, which is characterized by joint pain and swelling and where ligaments and tendons are attached to the bones.

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