General Health

Do You Know That Your Body Can Harm Itself? Know How You Can Reduce That Risk!

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By Apollo 24|7, Published on - 23 June 2022, Updated on - 18 October 2022

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Your immune system protects your body from several microbes such as bacteria, fungi, and viruses by making antibodies against them. However, sometimes the immune system mistakes its cells for these foreign microbes and starts attacking them, resulting in autoimmune diseases. While the exact cause of autoimmune diseases is not known yet, it is believed to be the result of both genetic and environmental factors. Let us know more about it. 

Which are the most common autoimmune diseases?

As of now, around 100 autoimmune diseases have been identified across the world. However, the most common ones include:

  • Thyroid disorders: Hashimoto’s thyroiditis is an autoimmune condition that slows down the production of thyroid hormone in the body. The disease can result in weight gain, fatigue, dry skin, and cold intolerance.
  • Type 1 diabetes: Type 1 diabetes occurs due to the destruction of the beta cells of the pancreas (cells that make insulin) due to an overactive immune system. Due to the lack of insulin in the body, blood sugar increases. 
  • Rheumatoid arthritis (RA): RA occurs when the body’s immune system attacks the bone tissues and results in pain, inflammation, and stiffness in joints. 
  • Psoriasis: Psoriasis causes the skin cells to multiply rapidly, resulting in pain, inflammation, redness, and scaling of the skin on the scalp, palms of the hands, elbows, knees and lower back. 
  • Systemic Lupus Erythematosus (SLE): Commonly known as lupus, SLE causes severe inflammation in multiple parts of the body including the joints, skin, kidney, brain, lungs and heart.
  • Multiple sclerosis (MS): MS occurs when the immune cells damage the lining of the nerve cells (myelin sheath) and affect the brain and the spinal cord. This results in impaired movement, vision, and balance of the body.

What increases the risk of developing an autoimmune disease?

Risk factors that may increase the risk of developing autoimmune disorders include:

  • Genetic association: People who have a family history of autoimmune diseases such as lupus or MS are at increased risk of developing the same.
  • Gender discrepancy: Women are more likely to develop autoimmune diseases than men. 
  • Chronic smoking: Research shows that smokers are more prone to develop autoimmune diseases such as SLE, rheumatoid arthritis and MS.
  • Use of certain medications: Medications used to maintain blood pressure (anti-hypertensive medicines) and some antibiotics can trigger drug-induced lupus. 
  • Increased body weight: Overweight and obese people have excessive fat tissues, which promotes inflammation in the body, thereby increasing the risk of developing an autoimmune disease. 

Recommended reading: Are Autoimmune Diseases More Prevalent in Women?

Can autoimmune diseases be prevented?

While it is not possible to prevent autoimmune diseases completely, measures that may help reduce the risk include:

  • Quit unhealthy habits: Smoking cessation helps in reducing the risk of inflammatory conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis.
  • Modify the diet: Add more fibrous foods such as green leafy vegetables, fresh fruits, organ meat, seafood, and probiotic foods to the diet.
  • Include exercise in daily routine: Practising moderate-intensity exercises such as dancing, swimming, or brisk walking for at least 30 minutes regularly to maintain a healthy weight.
  • Vitamin D supplementation: Studies reveal consumption of vitamin D supplements can reduce the risk of developing autoimmune diseases by 22%. 
  • Early detection: Those with a family history should consult a doctor immediately if they experience:
    • Development of itchy, flaking rashes on the skin
    • Blurred vision
    • Frequent fever
    • Gaining or losing weight suddenly despite having the same diet or exercising pattern
    • Pain and swelling in the joints 
    • Swollen glands
    • Persistent bloating 
    • Digestive issues (Acid reflux, constipation, or blood in stool)
    • Difficulty in remembering or concentrating

Recommended reading: How to Boost Your Immune System and Stay Healthy

An autoimmune disease can either destruct an organ, change its functioning, or result in abnormal growth. While scientists are exploring the factors that may result in autoimmune disorders, regular exercising, adopting a healthy lifestyle, and routine medical checkups can help reduce the chances of the at-risk population developing the disease. 

Medically reviewed by Dr Sonia Bhatt.


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