Autoimmune Diseases

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The main role of the immune system is to fight foreign invaders such as bacteria, moulds and viruses. In autoimmune diseases the immune system produces antibodies that attack the body's own cells, tissues and organs, resulting in inflammation and damage.

Autoimmune diseases include common and rare diseases 

Autoimmune diseases are a broad range of more than eighty related disorders, ranging from common to very rare. They affect around 5% of people and are an important health issue in Australia and New Zealand: 

Common autoimmune diseases include thyroiditis, rheumatoid arthritis and diabetes.

Less commone autoimmune diseases include systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE), also known as lupus, and vasculitis disorders (inflammation of blood vessels). 

What causes autoimmune diseases?

The causes of autoimmune diseases are unknown. In many cases there appears to be some inherited tendency. Other factors such as infections and some drugs may also play a role in triggering autoimmune diseases.

How are autoimmune diseases diagnosed?

Autoimmune diseases are usually diagnosed using a combination of clinical history, blood tests (autoantibodies, inflammation, organ function) and other investigations such as x-rays.  Sometimes a biopsy of affected tissues may be required for diagnosis.

Localised (organ specific) autoimmune diseases

Whilst localised (organ specific) autoimmune diseases mainly affect a single organ or tissue, the effects frequently extend to other body systems and organs.  These diseases are often managed by organ-specific medical specialists, such as endocrinologists, gastroenterologists, neurologists or rheumatologists.

Systemic autoimmune diseases

Systemic autoimmune diseases can affect many body organs and tissues at the same time. They can be broadly classified into rheumatological disease and vasculitis disorders. These diseases are often managed by clinical immunology/allergy specialists and/or rheumatologists. 

Examples of localised (organ specific) autoimmune diseases

Examples of rheumatological systemic autoimmune diseases

Treatment options for autoimmune diseases

Currently there are no cures for autoimmune diseases, although there is a wide range of treatment options, which depend on the stage and type of autoimmune disease. The main aims of treatments for autoimmune diseases are to relieve symptoms, minimise organ and tissue damage and preserve organ function. 

Treatment options include:

What happens if I have an autoimmune disease?

There are many different autoimmune diseases with different treatments and consequences for people with these diseases. It is important to find out as much as possible about your autoimmune disease by asking questions of your treating doctor.  

 

© ASCIA 2019

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Updated June 2019