Common Autoimmune Diseases and Celiac Disease
Autoimmune diseases are disorders that involve an abnormal immune response. The immune system becomes hyper-sensitized and loses the ability to distinguish between healthy tissue and antigens (harmful foreign substances or organisms such as bacteria, viruses, or toxins). The body attacks its own cells and causes widespread injury to tissue and organs. For example, in celiac disease the tissue in the small intestines is damaged.
What Are the Most Common Autoimmune Diseases?
There are more than 80 known autoimmune disorders, and at least 23.5 million Americans suffer from some type of autoimmune disease. Some of the most prevalent disorders are:
- Type 1 diabetes (lack of insulin production in the pancreas)
- Rheumatoid arthritis (inflammation of the joints in the hands and feet)
- Systemic lupus erythematosus (chronic inflammation affecting heart, joints, skin, lungs, blood vessels, liver, kidneys, and nervous system)
- Inflammatory bowel disease (inflammation of the digestive tract)
- Celiac disease (genetically caused gluten intolerance)
- Psoriatic arthritis (scaly, itchy skin)
- Multiple sclerosis (damage to the lining covering the nerves)
- Polymyalgia rheumatic (muscle pain and stiffness)
- Giant cell arteritis (inflammation of the lining of the arteries)
- Ankylosing spondylitis (fused spinal vertebrae)
- Graves’ disease (overactive thyroid)
- Hashimoto’s thyroiditis (underactive thyroid)
- Addison’s disease (damaged adrenal gland)
- Sjögren’s syndrome (damaged tear ducts and salivary glands)
- Vitiligo (damage to the melanin-producing cells, causing depigmentation)
- Scleroderma (damage to the connective tissues in the body)
- Pernicious anemia (decreased red blood cells, leading to B12 deficiency)
What Causes Autoimmune Diseases?
Many of these disorders arise in individuals who are genetically predisposed—although having the gene that’s linked to a disease does not guarantee that the person will become ill. Sometimes, a serious illness, trauma, stress, or environmental factor may play a role in triggering the genetic expression of the disorder. Individuals with one autoimmune condition are often at higher risk than the average person for developing additional disorders as well. For example, they might be affected by a combination of any of the following: celiac disease, type 1 diabetes, Addison’s, Hashimoto’s, or Sjögren’s. Various blood tests, antibody and genetic screening, tissue biopsy, and other tests are used to confirm or rule out a diagnosis for immune disorders.
How Are Autoimmune Conditions Treated?
A treatment plan usually consists of therapies or medications that treat or control symptoms. The underlying disorder may be managed with immune suppression. Limiting or eliminating triggers that cause the condition to flare up is also helpful in some cases. For example, individuals with celiac disease often experience a full recovery from their symptoms if they maintain a gluten-free lifestyle. This actually makes CD one of the easiest autoimmune diseases to treat.