Autoimmune diseases are created when the human body stops recognizing one internal part as its own. It fails to recognize the “self cells and attacks them as if they were foreign bodies. In normal immune system development, white cells are run through a test before leaving the thymus gland. If they fail to distinguish between foreign cells and self cells, they are destroyed. It is this process which keeps the healthy body from releasing an immunological army that could destroy all cells it encounters. In autoimmune diseases, the immune system stops recognizing a very specific part of the body and proceeds to destroy it. Medical researchers are still investigating why this happens and possible preventive measures.

Types of Autoimmune Diseases

The recognized autoimmune diseases are:

  1. • Addison's disease
  2. • anemia (pernicious)
  3. • Crohn's disease
  4. • diabetes mellitus
  5. • glomerulonephritis
  6. • Goodpasture's syndrome
  7. • Graves’ disease
  8. • Hashimoto's thyroiditis
  9. • hemolytic anemia
  10. • lupus erythematosus (systemic)
  11. • multiple sclerosis
  12. • myasthenia gravis
  13. • pemphigus
  14. • rheumatoid arthritis
  15. • scleroderma
  16. • Sjögren-Larsson syndrome.
  17. • thrombocytopenic purpura

The area attacked can vary. In diabetes mellitus, the T cells attack the pancreas, destroying the organ's ability to produce insulin. Without insulin, the body cannot break down sugar. If left unchecked, the sugar amounts will reach dangerous levels in the blood and eventually cause death.

In multiple sclerosis, the immune system attacks the long nerve fibers (white matter) of the nervous system. Lesions appear in the brain, and loss of nerve function results. The loss can be the ability to feel things with one's hands, the ability to control the legs while walking, muscle weakness, blurred vision, and assorted other functions.

Each of the autoimmune diseases attacks a different site, or attacks the same sites differently. It is estimated that 5 percent of the adult population in the Western Hemisphere suffer from an autoimmune disease.

Although there is a genetic link for autoimmune diseases, it is not solely through inheritance that someone gets the disease. People with two parents with the disease may not develop the disease, and others with no family history of autoimmune disease have been known to develop one. In identical twins, most autoimmune diseases occur less than 50 percent of the time in both twins.

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