What are autoimmune diseases?

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Autoimmune diseases are conditions in which the immune system mistakenly attacks the body's healthy cells and tissues. This malfunction can cause a wide variety of symptoms and affect any part of the body. In this article we will discuss the features, causes, influencing factors and the most common autoimmune diseases.

Autoimmune diseases

Features of autoimmune diseases

Autoimmune diseases are characterized by:

  1. Having the wrong immune response: The immune system launches a response against the body's own tissues, leading to inflammation and tissue damage.
  2. Being chronic and progressive: Many of these diseases are chronic and can progress over time.
  3. Presenting a variety of symptoms: Symptoms vary widely depending on the organ or tissue affected, and may include fatigue, pain, swelling and dysfunction of the organs involved.
  4. Alternating phases of remission with relapses: Autoimmune diseases often present a clinical course characterized by phases of remission and relapses or exacerbations.

Remission Phase

The remission phase occurs when the symptoms of an autoimmune disease diminish or disappear completely. During this period, the immune system stops actively attacking the body's healthy tissues, resulting in reduced inflammation and tissue damage. Remissions can be:

  • Complete: Where there are no signs or symptoms of the disease.
  • Partial: Some symptoms may persist, but are less severe than during relapse phase.

The remission phases may last weeks, months or even years, and may be the result of effective treatment or may occur spontaneously without medical intervention. The goal of treatment during this time is to maintain remission and prevent flare-ups.

Relapse Phase

A flare-up or exacerbation is a period when symptoms of autoimmune disease intensify or recur after a period of remission. During a flare-up, the immune system actively attacks the body again, which can lead to:

  • Increased inflammation: Causes redness, heat, swelling and pain in the affected areas.
  • Damage to tissues and organs: Depending on the disease, this may affect joints, skin, internal organs, nerves, among others.
  • Appearance of new symptoms or intensification of existing symptoms.

Relapses can be triggered by several factors, including stress, infections... Managing these factors can help reduce the frequency and severity of the flares.

Remission phase and flare phase - autoimmune diseases

Causes of autoimmune diseases

The exact causes of autoimmune diseases are not known for certain, but are believed to result from a combination of genetic and environmental factors. Some triggers include:

  • Genetic factors: Certain genes may increase your susceptibility to developing an autoimmune disease.
  • Sex: Women are more likely than men to develop autoimmune diseases.
  • Infections: Some infections can trigger an autoimmune response.
  • Environmental factors: Exposure to certain chemicals or toxins has been linked to an increased risk of some autoimmune diseases. Stress or diet may also influence the development of these diseases.

Most common autoimmune diseases

Some of the most frequent autoimmune diseases are:

  • Type 1 diabetes: Chronic disease in which the immune system attacks and destroys the beta cells of the pancreas, responsible for producing insulin, leading to elevated blood glucose levels.
  • Rheumatoid arthritis: It affects the joints causing inflammation, pain and eventually joint damage.
  • Systemic lupus erythematosus: It can affect the skin, joints, kidneys, brain and other organs.
  • Crohn's disease: Inflammatory bowel disease affecting the gastrointestinal tract.

Do you want to know your genetic predisposition to develop these diseases? Find out with ADNTRO's genetic tests.

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