What Are Autoimmune Diseases?
Autoimmune disorders are a large group of diseases associated with immune dysfunction. For reasons yet unknown to scientists, immune cells start producing antibodies to attack the body’s own tissues. Such antibodies are also called autoantibodies. They cause inflammation in various organs and systems of the human body, which results in their destruction.
Normally, immune organs produce some lymphocytes, which are programmed to take “friendly” proteins for foreign ones. By so doing, they destroy defective and tumor cells that may be harmful. The number of these immune cells is strictly controlled. In case of failures, it increases, and the cells begin to attack healthy tissues as well.
Typically, joints, the heart and blood vessels, skin, and intestines are involved in the autoimmune process. Autoimmune diseases affect approximately 8% of the world’s population. They are particularly difficult to identify since their symptoms are similar to other diseases. Only a thorough examination, patient questioning, and targeted diagnosis can help reveal the affection cause.
The exact causes of immune disorders are poorly understood. We know only risk factors that can trigger autoimmune conditions:
- Intrinsic factors. These include concomitant chronic or past diseases and a genetic predisposition. If a patient has immediate family members who suffer from autoimmune diseases, this person may develop the same disorder during their lifetime.
- Extrinsic factors. These include any physical or chemical exposure of the body (radiation, harsh medications intake, etc.) and pathogens. The cells change so much that the body’s own immunity begins to recognize them as foreign.
The Most Common Diseases
Rheumatoid arthritis is the most common autoimmune disorder. Autoimmune thyroid diseases are also widespread, Graves’ disease and Hashimoto’s thyroiditis in particular. Autoimmune diseases also include type 1 diabetes mellitus and systemic lupus erythematosus.
Not only disorders but also some syndromes can be of an autoimmune nature. A typical example is a chlamydia: this infection is spread by sexual activity and characterized by local and general clinical signs. Chlamydia may cause reactive arthritis, which is developed 2–4 weeks after the disease onset and affects joints in most cases. The eyes and the urogenital system are also affected. In reactive arthritis, organ damage has nothing to do with the direct deleterious action of the microorganisms: it is a result of an autoimmune response.
Autoimmune Diseases Treatment Methods
Autoimmune diseases seldom require surgery: it is only needed in case of complications associated with a lingering pathosis or ineffective therapy. As a rule, trauma orthopedists choose joint surgery since the joints are most commonly affected by an inappropriate immune response and are destroyed quite quickly, especially in an aggressive disease course.
Non-surgical treatment for autoimmune disorders is the basic one. Drug therapy can help control the disease manifestations and bring the patient into lasting remission. Unfortunately, there are no actually working treatment methods able to fix the immune system. Despite a large number of studies in this area, no etiotropic remedies for autoimmune diseases have been invented yet.
To achieve results, doctors use proven methods of autoimmune disorders treatment because such a complex system shall not be damaged. Many Israeli, German, Austrian, and Turkish clinics patients claim that they feel much better after the combination therapy. The doctor in charge makes sure that profile specialists are involved in the treatment, and they give their advice on complications prevention.
Most often, hormone therapy drugs, such as dexamethasone and prednisolone, are used in autoimmune disorders cases. These are adrenal gland hormones that suppress the immune response to save healthy cells from death. Painkillers and other symptomatic treatments are also used to improve the patient’s condition and quality of life.
Hormone therapy drugs for systemic lupus erythematosus, dermatomyositis, and rheumatoid arthritis are usually prescribed in high doses. This is severe stress for the body since these medications have a lot of side effects. In particular, they suppress immunity, making patients more vulnerable to seasonal viruses and other infections.
Large foreign medical centers carry out research, which is aimed at revealing the cause of autoimmune diseases and developing groundbreaking treatment methods.
The most promising direction is gene therapy, which will make it possible to replace the faulty gene and achieve complete recovery as the immune system will begin to work right. However, in the immediate future, gene therapy will not be available for patient care since most gene mutations causing a particular disease have not yet been detected.
Antibody-based drugs are also used; although they are not able to eliminate the disease cause as well, they provide targeted eradication of its clinical signs. Antibody-based drugs help prevent the attack of healthy cells. Patients can also use immunotherapy if supervised by the allergist and immunologist.
If the above groups of medication do not work, plasmapheresis can be used. It is an extracorporeal therapy, i.e. a medical procedure performed outside the body. During plasmapheresis, the patient’s blood is taken out of their body, cleared of autoantibodies, and returned to the bloodstream. Plasmapheresis can be performed by the manual or automated method. Before the procedure, the patient undergoes mandatory examinations by multiple specialists. It is indicated because plasmapheresis features several contraindications, which include, for example, arrhythmia, acute infectious diseases, and acute condition of a gastric ulcer. The latter condition is often associated with long-term hormone therapy.
The recovery period upon the primary treatment course is of crucial importance since the medications used are quite harsh, and the diseases themselves are chronic and inclined to relapse. Climatic treatment is indicated for autoimmune disease cases; the patients also need peace because stress can cause the disease exacerbation.
In foreign clinics, the rehabilitation measures are developed by a large number of qualified specialists: a nutritionist, a rehabilitation physician, an exercise therapy doctor, a physiotherapist, a psychologist, etc.
It is also important not to exaggerate and not to hurry into an active rehabilitation. Especially when a person has experienced a severe attack of the disease. Exercise therapy in severe exacerbation can amount to nothing more than breathing exercises. The benefits of graduated physical exercise have been proven by the practical experience of foreign specialists and in clinical trials. Engagement in sports boosts stamina, has a general health-improving effect, and ameliorates the patient’s psycho-emotional state.