Understanding Autoimmune Diseases and How They Develop

One of the strongest parts of a human body is your immune system. What role does your immune system play? Well, it functions like a superhero within your body, defending against pathogens and maintaining your health. However, sometimes it becomes confused and starts attacking the very body it is meant to protect – leading to autoimmune diseases. When an autoimmune disease develops, it’s basically as if the immune system has mistakenly turned against you. Instead of targeting pathogens, it begins attacking healthy cells in the body. There are many different autoimmune diseases, and each of these can affect different parts of the body, like the joints, skin, or even the brain.

What Causes Autoimmune Diseases?

While scientists are still working to fully understand what causes autoimmune diseases, they believe these conditions arise from a combination of factors. Genetics play a significant role, indicating that autoimmune diseases can run in families. If a close relative has an autoimmune disease, your risk may be higher due to shared genetic traits.

Environmental factors are also believed to contribute to the development of autoimmune diseases. This can include exposure to certain infections, which might trigger an abnormal immune response, or exposure to specific chemicals and toxins that could disrupt normal immune system functioning.

Additionally, lifestyle factors such as chronic stress have been found to potentially trigger autoimmune conditions. Prolonged stress can impact the immune system, leading to dysregulation and increasing the likelihood of it attacking healthy cells. Certain medications are also known to potentially trigger autoimmune responses in some individuals, causing the immune system to mistakenly target the body’s own tissues.

Examples of Common Autoimmune Diseases

While there are numerous different types of autoimmune diseases, there are some that are more common. Example of these include:

  • Type 1 Diabetes: The immune system attacks insulin-producing cells in the pancreas.
  • Rheumatoid Arthritis: The immune system targets the joints, causing inflammation, pain, and swelling.
  • Lupus: Affects various organs, including the skin, kidneys, heart, and lungs.
  • Multiple Sclerosis: The immune system attacks the protective covering of nerve fibers, affecting the central nervous system.
  • Celiac Disease: The immune response is triggered by gluten, leading to damage in the small intestine.
  • Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis: The immune system attacks the thyroid gland, often leading to hypothyroidism.
  • Graves’ Disease: The immune system targets the thyroid gland, causing hyperthyroidism.

How to Manage Living with Autoimmune Diseases

Living with an autoimmune disease presents challenges due to the diverse array of symptoms it can cause. For instance, Rheumatoid Arthritis often manifests in swollen and painful joints, while Type 1 Diabetes disrupts the body’s insulin production, crucial for regulating blood sugar levels.

Managing autoimmune diseases typically involves a multifaceted approach. Medications play a pivotal role in symptom management and curbing the immune system’s attacks on the body. Implementing lifestyle changes, such as maintaining a healthy diet and engaging in regular exercise, can also yield significant benefits. In some cases, individuals may need to consult specialists like rheumatologists or endocrinologists, who are adept at treating autoimmune conditions.

While living with an autoimmune disease can be demanding, it’s essential to recognize that you’re not alone in your journey! Many others are navigating similar experiences, and there are abundant resources and support networks available to assist you. Collaborating closely with your TopLine MD Alliance affiliated Physician to devise an optimal treatment strategy is paramount, as is prioritizing self-care through balanced nutrition, adequate rest, and stress management.


Dr. Scott Edele is a proud member of the TopLine MD Alliance practicing Primary Care in Broward County.

The TopLine MD Alliance is an association of independent physicians and medical practice groups who are committed to providing a higher standard of healthcare services. The members of the TopLine MD Alliance have no legal or financial relationship with one another. The TopLine MD Alliance brand has no formal corporate, financial or legal ties to any of the affiliated physicians or practice groups.