MS to RA: Types of Autoimmune Diseases

February 24, 2023 - Ellie Gabel

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There is a seemingly endless list of diseases, as new ones always appear. However, autoimmune disorders are some of the most notable, especially in today’s health-aware society. Humanity was acutely aware of immunity during the thick of the pandemic, and those with autoimmune diseases were to be extra careful. 

Do humans know what causes them and what makes specific individuals susceptible to them? We can begin understanding the answers to these questions by familiarizing ourselves with some of the most common autoimmune diseases and recalling some biological schooling.

The Cause of Autoimmune Diseases

To understand how autoimmune diseases function, it’s important to understand biology — how it works in a healthy body and how it works affected by an autoimmune disease. 

Autoimmune diseases describe illnesses that make the immune system attack itself. This happens because the body cannot identify a healthy cell and what isn’t. This discrepancy makes the body produce antibodies that attack healthy cells that appear foreign. Some autoimmune diseases affect one organ, and some affect the entire body. 

The cells in the immune system, also called T lymphocytes — or T cells — have built-in radars for bacteria and viruses that could hurt us. When these cells malfunction, they notify B lymphocytes — or B cells — to create autoantibodies to fight healthy cells.

The result causes reduced resiliency in the immune system, making the body more prone to every illness. Almost everything can influence the risk and likelihood of autoimmunity, including genetics, environment and diet. If an individual is taking drugs that already lower their immune system as a side effect, this could increase chances too.

Some demographics are more prone to autoimmune diseases than others — primarily women, who make up 80% of the population affected by them. We don’t know if women are more susceptible to autoimmune disorders because of hormones or genetic differences.

The symptoms of autoimmune diseases range from:

  • Fatigue
  • Pain and swelling in joints
  • Digestive issues
  • Skin irritations
  • Inability to balance
  • Vision loss
  • Food insensitivities 
  • Susceptibility to other illnesses

Most individuals receive a diagnosis of autoimmune disease through testing. Since autoimmune diseases arise from environmental stimuli and genetics, doctors can interview to discover more about a patient’s lifestyle and analyze medical history. This can also include blood tests, biopsies and x-rays to measure health aspects like inflammatory markets and blood counts.

Quick Facts About Autoimmune Diseases

To understand the climate in more detail, here are some key pieces of information about the medical industry and its relationship to treatment and customers with autoimmune diseases:

  • Autoimmune diseases are not contagious or infectious, and they are not related to cancer.
  • One in 5 Americans have an autoimmune disease.
  • Not all treatments for one disease works for all people with that disease.
  • Autoimmune ailments are genetic, potentially running in families for generations.
  • Not all autoimmune diseases are life-threatening, though all alter lifestyles in some way.

The Most Common Types of Autoimmune Diseases

The Autoimmune Association has an exhaustive list of over 100 diseases falling into various categories. However, these are some of the most common to affect humans.

Type 1 Diabetes

One of the most common types of autoimmune diseases because of its high permeation, Type 1 diabetes attacks cells in the pancreas that produce insulin. There are other types of diabetes, ranging in symptom severity. This is why those who suffer from it need to monitor their sugar levels.

Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA)

This is a type of arthritis that primarily attacks joints, making mobility a challenge. Rheumatologists specialize in joint-related illnesses.

Psoriasis or Psoriatic Arthritis

If you’ve seen images of scaly patches on someone’s skin, that is psoriasis. People with psoriasis can also obtain specific arthritis only affecting people previously diagnosed with psoriasis. Those needing assistance should seek dermatologists.

Crohn’s Disease

Crohn’s is one of several autoimmune diseases like ulcerative colitis and inflammatory bowel disease that cause issues with intestinal duties, often affecting diet. Gastroenterologists help with conditions involving the GI tract.

Multiple Sclerosis (MS)

This affects all or parts of the central nervous system, including the brain, spine and eyes. The attacking cells destroy a substance called myelin that guards the nerves, causing severe side effects like paralysis or blindness.

Systemic Lupus Erythematosus (SLE)

SLE targets connecting tissue, potentially all over the body. This causes symptoms to vary widely, from weight loss to inflammation. Because of its widespread, it can sometimes take time to identify.

Thyroid Diseases

There are two types of thyroid classifications, including hyperthyroidism and hypothyroidism. An example of hyperthyroidism is Graves disease, which increases heart rate and weight loss. An example of hypothyroidism is Hashimoto’s disease. Endocrinologists specialize in conditions related to glands.

The Modern Remedies and Current Development

Autoimmune diseases are incurable but management options are out there with varying degrees of success, depending on how complex the disease is and how much research is being done to perfect treatment. 

The issue with treating autoimmune diseases is there isn’t a simple antibiotic or medicine that can kill cells — targeting would be impossible because the body cannot identify healthy cells in the first place. Instead, biotechnology companies seek to create additional T cells to act as moderators, manipulating or replacing existing cells with engineered versions. 

These experimental therapies could provide long-awaited relief. Chimeric antigen receptor T cell (CAR-T) therapy in SLE patients could offer a similar solution. The solution arose from the manipulation of similar treatments for leukemias to see if it could be fitted for lupus.

The most medicine can offer is an alleviation from symptoms caused by the autoimmune disorder, helping those affected to be able to cope. For instance, anti-inflammatory drugs can assist those with RA in reducing swelling and pain. Immunosuppressants can limit immune system activity altogether.

The Future of Medicine

Advancements are happening faster than before. Eventually, the struggle against autoimmune diseases will be the most manageable it ever has been, as the future of medicine promises to alleviate their stress of them on humanity. 

In the meantime, there are options for management. This allows those with an autoimmune disease to live as pain-free as possible with a combination of lifestyle adjustments or medication.

Revolutionized is reader-supported. When you buy through links on our site, we may earn an affiliate commision. Learn more here.


Ellie Gabel

Ellie Gabel is a science writer specializing in astronomy and environmental science and is the Associate Editor of Revolutionized. Ellie's love of science stems from reading Richard Dawkins books and her favorite science magazines as a child, where she fell in love with the experiments included in each edition.

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