For the average healthy person, the immune system protects against diseases and infections and can distinguish healthy cells from bacteria, viruses, fungi, and other potentially harmful microbes.
If you have an autoimmune disease, your immune system mistakenly sees healthy cells as a threat and attacks them. Autoimmune diseases are chronic and can affect various body parts and organs.
The actual amount of autoimmune diseases still requires research, though the AARDA estimates 80 to 100 different autoimmune diseases, along with at least 40 other diseases that may have a basis in autoimmunity.1 Living with autoimmune immune diseases is difficult.
Learn how to decrease inflammation and decrease symptoms of autoimmune diseases by reading our article about anti inflammatory diets and foods.
Common Autoimmune Diseases List
The symptoms can vary based on the area affected, but when left untreated or unmanaged, autoimmune diseases are life-threatening. The exact cause of autoimmune diseases is still unknown, though certain autoimmune diseases have a genetic root and run in families.2
Here are some of the most common autoimmune diseases.
Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD)
Inflammatory bowel disease is actually an umbrella term referring to several disorders characterized by gastrointestinal inflammation. This inflammation is caused by an immune system that mistakenly attacks intestinal microflora.3
The two most common types of IBD are Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis. In Crohn’s disease, the inflammation centers around the lining of your digestive tract, often spreading deeper into affected tissue. Ulcerative colitis is characterized by long-lasting inflammation and sores that affect the innermost lining of your colon and rectum.
The symptoms of IBD can vary based on the severity of the inflammation and the area affected, but common signs and symptoms can include:
- Bloody stools
- Abdominal pain and cramping
- Reduced appetite
- Sudden, unintended weight loss
- General fatigue4
Type 1 Diabetes
Alternately known as insulin-dependent diabetes, type 1 diabetes is a chronic disorder characterized by little to no insulin produced by the pancreas. This is usually caused by the immune system eliminating insulin-producing cells in the pancreas known as islets.
Symptoms of type 1 diabetes include:
- Increased thirst
- Frequent and urgent urination
- Sudden and unintended weight loss
- Intense hunger
- Sudden mood changes
- Blurry vision
- General weakness and fatigue
When left untreated, type 1 diabetes can result in a variety of complications that can be debilitating and potentially fatal, including nerve damage, kidney damage, and cardiovascular problems.31
Guillain-Barre Syndrome (GBS)
Guillain-Barre Syndrome is a rare nerve disorder caused by the immune system attacking nerves, resulting in the degradation of the nerves’ myelin sheath. The myelin sheath protects nerve cells and allows them to transmit signals and properly communicate with one another.
Symptoms of GBS usually start with weakness and tingling in the feet and legs before spreading to the arms and upper body. Other signs and symptoms include:
- Unsteady walking
- Difficulty with chewing, swallowing, speaking, and controlling facial movements
- Severe pain that may feel like a cramp
- Problems with bladder control and bowel function
- Changes in blood pressure
- Increased heart rate
- Breathing problems
GBS can eventually result in full body paralysis. While there is no known cure for GBS, treatments can help to reduce symptoms and the duration of the illness. Most people who seek treatment will recover from GBS.5
Hashimoto thyroiditis, also known as chronic lymphocytic thyroiditis, refers to inflammation of the thyroid as a result of the immune system mistakenly attacking it. The thyroid gland is located at the base of your neck and responsible for producing hormones that regulate various bodily functions.
Inflammation of the gland often leads to hypothyroidism, or an underactive thyroid. This can result in a wide range of symptoms, including constipation, hair loss, joint pains, depression, and fatigue.
Graves’ disease also involve the thyroid, but in this case, the thyroid produces too much of its hormones, resulting in hyperthyroidism. This is caused by a mistaken immune response that essentially neutralizes the hormones that normally regulate thyroid function. As thyroid hormones play a role in numerous different body systems, the symptoms for Graves’ disease and hyperthyroidism in general can vary.
Common symptoms may include anxiety, weight loss despite normal eating habits, heart palpitations, frequent bowel movements, and fatigue.7
Myasthenia gravis is an autoimmune disorder characterized by the breakdown of communication between nerves and muscles. This is often caused by antibodies that mistakenly block or destroy neurotransmitter receptor sites on the muscles, resulting in fewer nerve signals.
The result is rapid weakness and fatigue of your muscles. This can exhibit itself in the form of drooping eyelids, difficulty swallowing or speaking, and general weakness in limbs.8
Vasculitis refers to inflammation in your blood vessels caused by an immune system attack that changes the blood vessel walls. Immune system attacks can lead to thickening, narrowing, weakening, or scarring in the blood vessels. Vasculitis can affect one organ or multiple organs and can be either acute or chronic.
Specific symptoms depend on the organ or area affected, but general symptoms for the disorder include:
- Numbness or weakness in the joints
- Aches and pains
- Weight loss
- General fatigue
- Night sweats
Some forms of vasculitis will go away without treatment, though some will require treatment to reduce inflammation and prevent sudden flare-ups.36
Rheumatoid arthritis is a chronic inflammatory disorder that is most often characterized by pain in the joints but can also include widespread damage to other organs and systems, including the eyes, lungs, skin, blood vessels, and heart. About 40 percent of those with rheumatoid arthritis will experience symptoms that do not involve the joints.
The most common symptoms include:
- Warm, tender, swollen joints
- Stiff joints
- Weight loss
- General fatigue
Unlike osteoarthritis, which is caused by excess wear and tear in the joints and ligaments, rheumatoid arthritis occurs when your immune system attacks healthy body tissues, mainly the lining of the membranes that encase your joints, known as synovium. Along with painful swelling, the continued damage to the synovium can cause bone erosion and deformities in the joints over time.9
Systemic Lupus Erythematosus
Referred to as SLE or simply lupus, systemic lupus erythematosus is characterized by your immune system attacking various tissues and organ systems, resulting in widespread inflammation. Lupus can affect several organs, including the joints, kidneys, skin, blood cells, lungs, heart, and brain.
As its symptoms resemble other ailments and autoimmune diseases, lupus can be difficult to diagnose. Its most distinctive sign is a facial rash that looks like a butterfly’s wings spread open across the cheeks, though this does not necessarily occur in all cases of lupus. Diagnosis can be even more difficult considering no two cases are exactly alike. Symptoms can vary widely in both type and severity.10
Psoriasis is an autoimmune disease noted by a drastic speedup in the life cycle of your skin cells theoretically caused by overactive T cells. Normally, your skin cells go through a cycle of growth and shedding, but the increased life cycle causes skin cells to grow over each other, resulting in itchy and often painful scales, patches, and lesions.
Psoriasis appears in several different forms, including plaque psoriasis, inverse psoriasis, and erythrodermic psoriasis. While these types exhibit different symptoms, the main symptoms that people experience include:
- Skin patches that appear red and covered in thick, silver scales
- Dry, cracking skin
- Itchiness, burning, or general soreness
- Thick, pitted, or ridged nails
- Stiff and swollen joints (in cases of psoriatic arthritis)
These symptoms flare up for weeks or months before waning or even going into remission.11
In multiple sclerosis, the immune system attacks the myelin that surrounds and protects nerve fibers in the brain and spinal cord. This results in communication problems between your brain and your body. Over time, MS can severely deteriorate your nerves or even cause permanent damage.
Symptoms for MS can vary from person to person based on the severity of nerve damage and the nerves that are actually affected, but they may include:
- Weakness or numbness in one or more limbs, usually on one side of your body at a time
- Double vision
- Partial or complete loss of vision with pain during eye movements, usually only in one eye at a time
- Tingling, tenderness, or pain in certain body parts
- Slurred speech
- Problems with bowel and bladder functions12
Diet is one thing you can change to improve remission of your autoimmune disease. However, it’s important to understand that you should not completely abandon your medical treatments as prescribed by your doctor and replace them with alternate medicine. Modifications to your diet and alternative and complementary medication should be used in conjunction with traditional medicine to mitigate any side effects and improve overall outcomes.13
As serious as autoimmune diseases are, with the right treatment, you can better manage symptoms and potentially put the disease into remission. Talk to your doctor today about treatment options and foods, supplements, and strategies that can complement your treatment.