What is an autoimmune disease, some people may wonder?
I wanted to start a segment on explaining the basics of autoimmune diseases and how they attack one’s body. In my first column I kind of gave a quick synopsis of what my autoimmune diseases are, but I would like to elaborate a bit more on each one.
Before I do that however, I need to give you the inner workings of how the immune system works, and how autoimmune disease affects the body. Keep in mind I am not a medical professional I am just a regular person like you. I do however have some medical background; I went to school to be a Patient Care Technician and volunteered at a free clinic to keep my skills up. Also, I took a Medical Billing and Coding course and received my certification. Which required me to take basic anatomy and physiology so I’m not totally in the dark.
Your immune system is a very important part of your body and performs an essential task. It helps to keep us from getting sick by fighting off germs such as bacteria, viruses, and germs that cause infections. When your immune system suspects a foreign invader is in your body it wages a full-scale attack on the invader. Thus, keeping you as healthy as possible; you still get sick, but your body is fighting on your behalf. Germs are constantly trying to sneak in undetected, so the immune system never gets a break.
What happens to your immune system when you have an autoimmune disease is very different than someone who doesn’t have one. Our immune system is overactive and responds in a unique way. In medical terms the word auto means self and that is exactly what happens with our immune system. It mistakes healthy tissues, joints, organs, muscles, or nerves for foreign invaders and wages war on them.
There are many different types of autoimmune diseases and each one attacks the body in a different way. How the body is attacked depends on which disease a person has. The one common denominator between all autoimmune disease is inflammation and the immune system.
Inflammation is caused by the body’s response to a foreign invader (in my case healthy tissue and joints.) For a healthy person the inflammation clears when you are no longer sick, but when your immune system is overactive it constantly attacks your body. This results in swollen joints, inflamed tissues, inflamed skin, and can cause joint damage, organ damage, pain, and stiffness. It also makes us tired, because our immune system is working too hard. So, it doesn’t take much for us to get exhausted.
People who have an autoimmune disease can also get sick easier and take longer to get over say a cold or flu than someone who is healthy. This is because our immune system is trying to attack both invaders and our body’s, and this weakens our immune system.
No one knows exactly what triggers this response of the immune system. There are certain things that can make you more susceptible to getting an autoimmune disease like environmental factors or genetics. Some people are predisposed to having an autoimmune disease. More research and awareness are needed, which is what I hope to accomplish with this column.
Maybe this can help break down some of the barriers and shed some light on what autoimmune diseases are. Thank you so much for taking the time to read this article. I look forward to tackling some of the autoimmune diseases I don’t have, and us learning together what they are and how they affect the body.
Signed a fellow warrior