The immune system is the body’s defence mechanism against germs, viruses and other unwanted nasties. But, when it malfunctions autoimmune disease if the inevitable outcome. The immune system is a very powerful defence, so when it goes on the attack, as an autoimmune disease, it can be a formidable adversary.
Having an autoimmune disease myself, I was aware that conditions like Multiple Sclerosis and Fibromyalgia share many of the same symptoms and, quite possibly, have the same root cause.
Always on the lookout for an interesting, informative topic on which to write about, I began to research as many of the autoimmune diseases as I could find out about.
Autoimmune Disease Comparison
The immune system is our main defence against many invading foreign bodies. When working effectively it is a very powerful defence. But, when it is not working, it can be a debilitating weakness. So I have compiled a list of some of the diseases I am aware of.
A list of chronic conditions some of which are, unfortunately, too common:
- Addison’s Disease
- Celiac Sprue Disease
- Chronic fatigue syndrome
- Diabetes mellitus
- Graves’ Disease
- Guillain-Barré Syndrome
- Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis
- Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD)
- Lyme Disease
- Multiple Sclerosis
- Myalgic Encephalomyelitis
- Myasthenia gravis
- Pernicious Anaemia
- Reactive Arthritis
- Rheumatoid Arthritis
- Sjögren’s Syndrome
- Temporomandibular disorder (TMD)
Bronze discolouration of the skin and low blood pressure are among the symptoms of Addison’s disease. Inadequate secretion of hormones in the adrenal cortex are the main problem.
Celiac Sprue Disease
Celiac disease, also known as celiac sprue or gluten-sensitive enteropathy, is a chronic disorder of the digestive tract that results in an inability to tolerate gliadin, the alcohol-soluble fraction of gluten. Gluten is a protein commonly found in wheat, rye, and barley.
Chronic fatigue syndrome
See myalgic encephalomyelitis
Diabetes mellitus (Type 1 Diabetes)
Type 1 diabetes mellitus is a rare form of autoimmune disease that prevents the insulin producing beta cells in the pancreas from operating normally. Sometimes referred to as juvenile diabetes, a misnomer as it can occur at any age, the lack of insulin prevents the proper regulation of blood sugar levels.
Individuals with type 1 diabetes require daily insulin administration either by injection or by an insulin pump.
A medical condition characterised by chronic pain. The cause of Fibromyalgia is not certain but may involve genetic or environmental factors. The symptoms of Fibromyalgia are manifold and may include:
- Widespead Pain
- Poor Sleep
- Cognitive Problems (Fibro-Fog)
- Heat Sensitivity
- Restless Leg Syndrome
Having multiple sclerosis myself, I can identify with many, if not all, of these symptoms. My step-sister and my wife’s best friend both have Fibromyalgia, quite badly at times.
First described by Sir Robert Graves in the early 19th century Graves’ Disease is one of the most common thyroid problems.
It can be the leading cause of hyperthyroidism where the thyroid produces excessive hormones.
In Graves’ the immune system releases abnormal mimic TSH (Thyroid Stimulating Hormone) causing the thyroid to produce far more hormones than it normally should.
Graves’ Disease is quite readily treated and can go into remission or disappear completely. But, untreated it can lead to serious complications, even death.
Guillain-Barré syndrome is an autoimmune condition (where the immune system attacks healthy cells and tissue). It’s not known what causes the immune system to do this.
Most people develop Guillain-Barré syndrome after having another illness. This is usually a viral infection, such as the common cold, influenza, a throat infection, or sometimes a bacterial infection.
It’s thought the infection may trigger the immune system to attack nerve roots and peripheral nerves. The peripheral nervous system controls the body’s senses and movements.
Guillain-Barré is predominantly a muscle weakening condition but, in serious cases this can lead to many problems.
- Pain, Tingling and Numbness
- Progressive Muscle Weakness
- Coordination Problems, Unsteadiness
- Blurred or Double Vision
- Dysarthria Speech Difficulty
- Bladder Control
Again, the symptoms all sound too familiar.
In people with Hashimoto’s, the immune system attacks the thyroid. This can lead to hypothyroidism, a condition in which the thyroid does not make enough hormones for the body’s needs.
Located in the front of your neck, the thyroid gland makes hormones that control metabolism. This includes your heart rate and how quickly your body uses calories from the foods you eat.
- weight gain
- paleness or puffiness of the face
- joint and muscle pain
- inability to get warm
Hashimoto’s symptoms may be mild at first or take years to develop. The first sign of the disease is a goiter or enlarged thyroid. The goiter may cause the front of your neck to look swollen. A large goiter may make swallowing difficult.
Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD)
IBD or Inflammatory bowel disease is a term used to describe two conditions; ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease.
Both ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease are long-term (chronic) conditions that involve inflammation of the gut (gastrointestinal tract).
Ulcerative colitis only affects the colon (large intestine), while Crohn’s disease can affect all of the digestive system, from the mouth to the anus.
It’s sometimes difficult to tell the difference between the two main types of IBD. If this is the case, it’s known as indeterminate colitis.
There are other, less common types of IBD called collagenous colitis and lymphocytic colitis. The inflammation can only be seen using a microscope, and so they’re known as microscopic colitis.
Lupus – Systemic lupus erythematosus
Symptoms of systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) can vary widely from person to person. Some people may only experience a few mild symptoms, whereas others may be more severely affected.
Even if you usually have mild symptoms, SLE can “flare-up”, with symptoms becoming more severe or new symptoms developing.
The three main symptoms of Lupus are fatigue, joint pain and rashes.
Other symptoms of Lupus may include:
- Swollen Lymph Glands
- Stomach (abdominal) pain
- Cognitive Difficulty
- Shortness of Breath
Lyme disease, or Lyme borreliosis, is a bacterial infection spread to humans by infected ticks.
Ticks are tiny spider-like creatures found in woodland and heath areas. They feed on the blood of birds and mammals, including humans. Ticks that carry the bacteria responsible for Lyme disease are found throughout the UK and in other parts of Europe and North America.
Lyme Disease is NOT an autoimmune Disease but symptoms including fatigue, joint pain, stiffness and fever can often lead to misdiagnosis.
Multiple Sclerosis (MS)
MS is a condition which can affect the brain and/or spinal cord, causing a wide range of potential symptoms, including problems with vision, arm or leg movement, sensation or balance.
Multiple Sclerosis is an autoimmune disease where the immune system attacks the protein in myelin, the protective sheath around nerve fibres.
It’s a lifelong condition that can sometimes cause serious disability, although it can occasionally be mild. In many cases, it’s possible to treat symptoms.
MS is not, in itself, a life threatening condition. However, complications with symptoms can lead to a slightly reduced life expectancy.
It’s estimated that there are more than 100,000 people diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis in the UK.
Normally diagnosed in people aged between twenty and forty. MS is about two or three times more common in women than men.
Having Multiple Sclerosis myself, I can relate from first-hand experience that the symptoms of MS can vary hugely in severity and will change over time:
- Walking Difficulty
- Cognitive Problems (Brain Fog)
- Visual Problems
Chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) causes persistent fatigue (exhaustion) that affects everyday life and doesn’t go away with sleep or rest.
CFS is also known as ME, which stands for myalgic encephalomyelitis. There’s some debate over the correct term to use for the condition, but these pages will refer to the condition as CFS.
CFS is a serious condition that can cause long-term illness and disability, but many people – particularly children and young people – improve over time.
It is estimated that around 250,000 people in the UK have CFS.
Anyone can get the condition, although it’s more common in women than men.
It usually develops when people are in their early 20s to mid-40s. However, ME my also affect children between the ages of 13 to 15.
Muscle weakness is the main symptom of myasthenia gravis. The eye and facial muscles and those that control swallowing are commonly affected.
The symptoms of myasthenia gravis can appear quickly. However, it may take some time before the condition is correctly diagnosed.
Weakness of the eye muscles is often the first symptom to develop in around 50% of cases. However, slurred speech, swallowing problems or neck or limb weakness can occur first. The severity of muscle weakness varies from one person to another.
The muscle weakness of myasthenia gravis isn’t usually painful in itself, but people with the condition often experience aching muscles, particularly during, or after, periods of physical activity.
Pernicious anaemia is an autoimmune disorder that can lead to serious complications. Some of these include brain and nerve damage, heart problems, chronic anemia, and stomach cancer.
It occurs when the body can’t absorb enough vitamin B-12. Vitamin B-12 is needed to make red blood cells and can be found in foods and supplements.
Pernicious anaemia can be treated by increasing the levels of vitamin B-12 in the body through injections, supplements, and a well-balanced diet. It’s important to get diagnosed and treated early to prevent complications.
Pernicious anaemia is an autoimmune disorder in which your body can’t make enough healthy red blood cells because it can’t absorb enough vitamin B-12. For this reason, it is sometimes called vitamin B-12 deficiency anaemia.
Anemia was once thought to be a deadly disease. Hence the name “pernicious”. This was due to the lack of available treatment. Today, the disease is relatively easy to treat with B-12 injections or supplements.
However, untreated vitamin B-12 deficiency can lead to severe complications. These can include:
- Brain Damage
- Nerve Damage
- Heart Problems
- Chronic Anemia
- Stomach Cancer
The skin condition Psoriasis is a long-lasting (chronic) disease that usually involves periods when you have no symptoms or mild symptoms, followed by periods when symptoms are more severe.
Psoriasis is a skin condition that causes red, flaky, crusty patches of skin covered with silvery scales.
These patches normally appear on your elbows, knees, scalp and lower back, but can appear anywhere on your body. Most people are only affected with small patches. In some cases, the patches can be itchy or sore.
Psoriasis affects around 2% of people in the UK. It can start at any age, but most often develops in adults under 35 years old. The condition affects men and women equally.
Reactive arthritis, formerly known as Reiter’s syndrome, is a condition that causes inflammation, redness and swelling, in various places in the body.
It usually develops following an infection, and in most cases clears up in a few months without causing long-term problems.
The three most common places affected by reactive arthritis are:
- the joints (arthritis), which can cause pain, stiffness and swelling
- the eyes (conjunctivitis), which can cause eye pain and redness
- the urethra (non-gonococcal urethritis), which can cause pain when urinating (the urethra is the tube that carries urine out of the body)
However, most people will not experience all of these problems.
Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disease. This means that your immune system – which usually fights infection – attacks the cells that line your joints by mistake, making them swollen, stiff and painful.
RA commonly affects the hands, feet and wrists. Although, it can cause problems in other parts of the body.
There may be periods where your symptoms become worse, known as a flare-up or flare. A flare can be difficult to predict, but with treatment it is possible to decrease the number of flares and minimise or prevent long-term damage to the joints.
The skin condition Scleroderma is an uncommon condition that results in hard, thickened areas of skin and sometimes problems with internal organs and blood vessels.
Scleroderma is an autoimmune disease. And, is caused by the immune system attacking the connective tissue under the skin. And around internal organs and blood vessels. This causes scarring and thickening of the tissue in these areas.
There are several different types of scleroderma that can vary in severity. Some types are relatively mild and may eventually improve on their own, while others can lead to severe and life-threatening problems.
There’s no cure for scleroderma, but most people with the condition can lead a full, productive life. There are a number of different treatments that can control Scleroderma.
Sjögren’s (pronounced Show-grin’s) syndrome is an autoimmune disorder. The body’s immune system attacks glands that secrete fluid, such as the tear and saliva glands.
The effects of Sjögren’s syndrome can be widespread. Certain glands become inflamed. Which reduces the production of tears and saliva. This causes the main symptoms of Sjögren’s syndrome, which are dry eyes and dry mouth.
In women , the glands that keep the vagina moist can also be affected, leading to vaginal dryness. Sjögren’s syndrome affects women more than it affects men.
Temporomandibular disorder (TMD)
Temporomandibular disorder (TMD) is a problem affecting the ‘chewing’ muscles. And, the joints between the lower jaw and the base of the skull.
Doctors sometimes refer to the condition as “myofascial pain disorder”.
As many as 30% of adults will experience TMD at some point in their lives.
The condition itself isn’t usually serious. However, the symptoms it can cause are. Including pain, jaw joint clicking, and difficulties eating. These usually only last a few months before getting better.
The symptoms are not normally severe. But, specialist treatment is available if required.
TMD is, probably, not an autoimmune disease in itself. But, TMD can be a symptomatic of other other chronic disorders.
Vasculitis literally means ‘inflammation of the blood vessels’.
Inflammation is your immune system’s response to tissue that has become injured or infected.
Damaged cells release chemicals that cause blood vessels to leak fluid into the tissues, causing tissue swelling. If there’s an infection, this helps isolate the invading germ.
In vasculitis, your immune system attacks the blood vessels by mistake. The trigger may be an infection, a medicine or another medical condition. Sometimes, however, the cause isn’t clear.
It is an autoimmune disease that leads to swollen blood vessel walls and narrowed blood vessels. This can reduce blood flow to tissues and organs. If the blood vessel wall becomes weak, bleeding can occur.
Vitiligo occurs due to a lack of melanin in the affected areas of skin. Melanocytes are the specialist skin cells responsible for the production of Melanin. This gives your skin its colour and protects it from the sun.
It’s not clear exactly what causes this lack of melanin. However, the immune system is susceptible to many external factors.
Vitiligo is a long-term condition that causes pale, white patches to develop on the skin. This is due to the lack of a chemical called melanin.
Vitiligo can affect any area of your skin. But, most commonly occurs on skin exposed to the sun, such as your face, neck and hands.
The condition varies from person to person. Some people only get a few small, white patches. But, others get bigger white patches that join up across large areas of their skin.
While Vitiligo is not directly due to lack of sun exposure, sun worshippers should still be cautious. Exposure to daylight creates vitamin D in the skin. However, excessive sun exposure can bring serious health risks.
So due to the dangers of melanoma and general sunburn, baking on the beach is a bad idea. Much as I enjoy relaxing in the sun, I don’t. Because, the exposure to heat worsens my MS symptoms. And, the temptation to have a refreshing beer is ever present.
Consequently, I try to avoid the heat of the day. However, this can be difficult when we holiday in Spain.
What are Autoimmune Disorders? – WebMD
Autoimmune Disease – Healthline
Do you have on of these dreadful autoimmune diseases? Or, perhaps, you have an autoimmune disease I haven’t mentioned here… Let me know by leaving a comment on this post. I may use your condition as the basis for a future post. Furthermore, if you notice any erroneous details then please let me know. It is only by collaborating that we can fully understand the nature of these debilitating autoimmune diseases.