Autoimmune disorders are a group of diseases that occur when the body produces an inappropriate immune response against its own tissues. For a better understanding of this complex phenomenon, it is necessary to know what immunity is and how the body protect itself from disease causing organisms, present in the environment.
Immunity is the ability of an organism to resist a particular infection or toxin. It is the state of being resistant from particular diseases. There may be an abnormally low activity or an increased activity of the immune system and these are called immune disorders. When there is low activity of immunity, the body's ability to fight invaders gets reduced. This leads to infections with bacteria and viruses and the person gets frequent diseases. Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) is an infection, where the virus destroys the cells that provide immunity and causes the Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome (AIDS). When there is over activity of the immune system, the body attacks and damages its own tissues. In such cases, the immune system fails to recognize one or more of its own normal constituents, consider it as hostile invader and start producing auto- antibodies that attack its own cells, tissues, and/or organs. This causes inflammation and damage the body. This category of diseases is called autoimmune disorder.
Autoimmune disorders affect people of all genders, races, and ages, but certain people have an increased risk of developing this condition. Majority of these disorders are common in women than in men — an estimated 75 percent of those living with autoimmune disorders are female.
Most autoimmune disorders affect younger and middle-aged people. But each of these are different and disorders such as rheumatoid arthritis are more common as people age. African-American, American-Indian, or Latino ethnic groups are more likely than Caucasians to develop autoimmune disorders. Studies have shown that the tendency to develop autoimmune disorders can be inherited.
Exposure to certain drugs or metals like mercury, gold and silver may be associated with the development of autoimmune disorders. Genetically susceptible people who have had certain bacterial and viral infections in the past may be at risk for some types of autoimmune disorders in later life.
Vital force, Journal of Indian Institute of Homeopathic physicians, AUTOIMMUNE DISORDERS, Compiled by Dr. Aarati Ajmera, MD (Hom), Vol 31, Feb, 2012.
The cause of autoimmune disorder is unknown. It appears that there is an inherited predisposition in many cases. The precipitating antigens may be bacteria, viruses, toxins, cancer cells, and blood or tissues from another person or species. In patients with an autoimmune disorder, the immune system can't tell the difference between healthy body tissue and antigens. The response to such reaction is that it may destroy normal body tissues. This response is a hypersensitivity reaction similar to the response in allergic conditions.
An autoimmune disorder may result in destruction of one or more types of body tissue, abnormal growth of an organ or changes in organ function.
books.google.co.in, Bhattacharya and Sinha, Text Book of Immunology
Vital force, Journal of Indian Institute of Homeopathic physicians, AUTOIMMUNE DISORDERS, Compiled by Dr. Aarati Ajmera, MD (Hom), Vol 31, Feb, 2012
There are as many as 100 types of autoimmune diseases. Many of them have similar symptoms which make them difficult to diagnose. It is also possible to have more than one at the same time. Autoimmune disorder often fluctuate between periods of remission with little or no symptoms at times and flare up at a different time. Because there are different types, the symptoms also vary. The common symptoms are general malaise, fatigue and fever. The symptoms get worse during flare ups and less during remission. Auto immune affects many parts of the body such as joints, muscles, skin, red blood cells, connective tissue and endocrine system.
An autoimmune disorder manifest in countless ways. If a patient has a particular symptom or problem that cannot be explained by common conditions, the doctor might suspect an autoimmune disorder. Apart from the general symptoms of malaise, fatigue and fever, there may be specific symptoms related to the specific affections.
The following are the common symptoms associated with autoimmune disorders. If anyone is experiencing these, especially a combination of them, it is advised to go for further investigations.
Depending on their manifestation, Autoimmune disorder can be broadly divided into systemic and organ specific or localised autoimmune disorders, depending on the principal clinico-pathologic features of each disease.
Systemic autoimmune diseases include Systemic Lupus Erythematosus (SLE), Sjögren's syndrome, scleroderma, rheumatoid arthritis, and dermatomyositis. These conditions tend to be associated with auto-antibodies to antigens which are not tissue specific.
Local syndromes which affect a specific organ or tissue are:
The following are the common autoimmune disorders:
Addison’s disease - Results from an autoimmune reaction in which the body's immune system erroneously makes antibodies against the cells of the adrenal cortex and slowly destroys them resulting in deficiency of steroid hormones.
Ankylosing spondylitis - A rheumatic disease that causes inflammation in the spine and sacroiliac joint and, in some people, inflamed eyes and heart valves.
Antiphospholipid syndrome - This condition occurs when the body's immune system mistakenly attacks phospholipid, a type of fat that is present in all living cells. In some cases, the attacks can cause clotting in the blood vessels and may lead to serious conditions such as stroke or heart attack.
Autoimmune haemolytic anaemia -
This condition occurs when the immune system creates antibodies that destroy red blood cells.
Celiac Disease - is a digestive autoimmune condition that damages the small intestine when a trigger protein gluten is ingested and causes inflammation and injury to the small intestine. This can result in symptoms such as diarrhoea, bloating and weight loss, as well as an inability to absorb important nutrients from foods.
Graves’ disease - Autoimmunity causes the thyroid gland to become overly active.
Guillain-Barre syndrome – A disorder in which the body's immune system attacks part of the nervous system, leading to numb, weak limbs and, in severe cases, paralysis.
Hashimoto’s thyroiditis – A disease in which the thyroid gland is attacked by the immune system.
Multiple sclerosis – A disease that affects the myelin sheath that covers nerves.
Myasthenia gravis A disease that affects skeletal muscles.
Primary biliary cirrhosis – A disease that slowly destroys the bile ducts in the liver. When the ducts are damaged, bile builds up in the liver and damages liver tissue.
Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) and Juvenile RA (JRA) - Is a type of arthritis in which autoimmunity causes the immune system to attack tissues in the joints, leading to muscle pain, joint deformities, fatigue, weakness, loss of appetite, weight loss, and sometimes confinement to bed.
Scleroderma - An autoimmune disease characterized by abnormal growth of connective tissue in the skin and blood vessels. In more severe forms, connective tissue can build up in the kidneys, lungs, heart, and gastrointestinal tract, leading in some cases to organ failure.
Sjögren’s syndrome Is a disease in which the immune system attacks the glands that make tears and saliva and makes the eyes and mouth dry. The disease may also cause fatigue and pain in the joints. In rare cases, it can damage the lungs, kidneys, and nerves.
Systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) Is a condition in which immune system attacks healthy tissue. It can affect a number of different organs from top to bottom, including the brain, heart, lungs, joints, and kidneys.
Type 1 Diabetes Mellitus - Develops when the body's immune system attacks and destroys insulin-producing beta cells found in the pancreas.
Goodpasture syndrome - An autoimmune disease affecting the Lungs and Kidneys.
Mixed connective tissue disease - MCTD combines features of scleroderma, myositis, systemic lupus erythematosus, and rheumatoid arthritis and is thus considered an overlap syndrome.
Myasthenia gravis - A disease in which the immune system attacks the nerves and muscles in the neck, causing weakness and problems with seeing, chewing, and/or talking.
Polymyalgia rheumatica Is an inflammatory disease; the joints and the areas around them get stiff and may ache. It mostly happens in the neck, shoulders, and hip.
Polymyositis - A rare autoimmune disease characterized by inflamed and tender muscles throughout the body, particularly those of the shoulder and hip girdles.
Psoriasis - A chronic skin disease that occurs when cells in the outer layer of the skin reproduce faster than normal and pile up on the skin's surface. This results in scaling and inflammation.
Temporal Arteritis - Is an inflammatory disease. Inflammation occurs in the blood vessels that carry blood up through the neck to the head. It mostly affects the arteries that carry blood to the eyes, temple, and jaw. Temporal arthritis is also called Giant cell arteritis.
Ulcerative Colitis - Is a serious and chronic bowel condition characterized by chronic inflammation in the colon. It falls into a class of disorders known as inflammatory bowel disease (IBD).
Vasculitis - Occurs when the immune system attacks healthy blood vessels and the inflamed vessels can become narrow or may even burst.
Vitiligo - Is a dermatological condition characterized by the appearance of white patches of skin on different parts of the body as a result of the destruction of the melanocytes. It seems to occur more often among people who have certain autoimmune disorder.
Wegener's granulomatosis - An autoimmune disease that damages the small and medium-sized blood vessels throughout the body, resulting in disease in the lungs, upper respiratory tract, and kidneys.
In some cases, a person may have more than one autoimmune disease; for example, persons with Addison’s disease often have type 1 diabetes, while persons with sclerosing cholangitis often have ulcerative colitis.
Aspects of Consciousness: Essays on Physics, Death and the Mind, edited by Ingrid Fredriksson
Vital force, Journal of Indian Institute of Homeopathic physicians, AUTOIMMUNE DISORDERS, Compiled by Dr. Aarati Ajmera, MD (Hom), Vol 31, Feb, 2012.
There is no single test that can confirm a diagnosis of an autoimmune disorder, but there are tests that can suggest or rule out the presence of a suspected autoimmune disorder. If the tests come back negative, it can sometimes help to do a repeat test at a later date, since false negative tests results are possible when certain autoimmune conditions are in "remission."
When going through the diagnostic process for an autoimmune disorder, a little patience is usually in order. But because symptoms of an autoimmune disorder often come and go over time, it can take months or even years to confirm an autoimmune disorder.
The diagnosis of autoimmune disorder is not straightforward, and requires a detailed history, physical examination, laboratory testing, radiography, and sometimes even biopsy.
Blood tests can be helpful, but often do not hold the complete answer. The most common blood test first ordered when an autoimmune disease is suspected is the antinuclear antibody test, otherwise known as the ANA. There are dozens of other tests, most of which involve the
immune system, that try to detect autoimmunity. Many people have a falsely positive or false negative ANA. Because of the high incidence of false positive and false negative blood test results, the diagnosis of autoimmune disease can be a process of careful history taking , physical examination and observation over time.
Tests that may be done to diagnose an autoimmune disorder may include:
·Inflammation and organ function tests- Since certain autoimmune disorders can cause organs, such as kidney or liver, to function abnormally, tests may be performed to see if the organs are working as they should.
The outcome depends on the disease. Most autoimmune disorders are chronic, but many can be controlled with treatment. Many people take medicines to reduce the immune system's abnormal response. These are often called immunosuppressive medicines.
Complications depend on the disease. Side effects of medications used to suppress the immune system can be severe, such as infections that can be hard to control. Mortality depends on several factors including its severity, target organ, cell, tissue and vital tissues affected. Duration, and the stage of the diseases, underlying morbid condition, age of the patient and their overall health, also determine the severity of the condition.
Many auto immune disorders do well with appropriate management. They are mostly chronic in nature and require expert care periodically and for a long time.
The goals of treatment is to reduce symptoms, control the autoimmune process and maintain the body's ability to fight the disease. Autoimmune disorders tend to run in families, so the family history of the patient is very important.
The nature and duration of the treatment depends on the specific disease and the severity of the symptoms. Some patients may need supplements to replace a hormone or vitamin that the body is lacking. Examples include thyroid supplements, vitamins such as B12, or insulin injections. If the autoimmune disorder affects the blood, such cases may need blood transfusions. People with autoimmune disorders that affect the bones, joints, or muscles may need help with movement or other functions (physiotherapy). Medicines are often prescribed to control or reduce the immune system response. They are often called immunosuppressive medicines.
In Homeopathy the approach is primarily for augmenting the person's own inherent defences. Homeopathic medicines are found to have long term benefits in conditions like Psoriasis, Vitiligo, Rheumatoid arthritis and Ulcerative colitis. There are two approaches in the management of these conditions. The first is to alleviate the troublesome symptoms and the second is constitutional remedies selected based on the holistic typology of the patient and his symptoms. However the benefit is sometimes achieved more slowly.
Each person manifest their disease in an individual manner, and these differences help to determine the particular homeopathic medicine being prescribed. Three patients with the same autoimmune disease might receive three different medicines.
In those autoimmune disorders where there is a possibility of exacerbation of symptoms by stress; rest and relaxation may be necessary. Sun protection may be required in conditions where predominant affection is on skin e.g in lupus, where the rashes and skin conditions are exacerbated by sunlight. It is also essential to limit sun exposure. A good quality sunscreen with at least factor 25 protections should be worn. Avoidance of exposure to infection, as they have an adverse effect on the immune system, and the immunosuppressant drugs, that are often used during symptom flare-ups, can make the body even more susceptible to infection. Clearly we are continually exposed to viruses on the bus, train, in the workplace etc on a daily basis, and short of spending 24 hours a day in a bubble it is impossible to live in an infection-free environment. It is important however to take precautions, and avoid family members and friends with obvious known infections, especially chickenpox. A diet low in saturated animal fat may be helpful in reducing joint pains and inflammation and will certainly improve overall health and wellbeing. There is some evidence to suggest that fish oil supplements may be useful.
Naturopathic detoxification through different methods, including diets, colonics, juicing; of various degrees of complexity, some easy to do at home, some requiring extended retreats and expert guidance. Various attempts to limit environmental exposure, such as restrictive diets, special cleaning of the patient’s environment, removal of offending agents from patient’s life (like giving away cat or replacing the detergent are particularly sensitive to) may be taken, mostly as a precaution.
Attempts to redirect the attention of the overactive immune system by introducing a substance, similar to whatever the immune system is trying to kill, is attempted in Organopathic approach. For example, some preparations of animal thyroid gland are used to take the immune system’s attention away from native thyroid gland.
Nutritional supplementation with vitamins, minerals, aminoacids and other food components, in order to replace what is missing, or increase the body content of particular components to above normal, if normal levels are not enough for smooth functioning in a particular case.