Autoimmune diseases or disorders occur when the immune system identifies the body cells as foreign and attacks them. The body mistakenly fights the healthy cells that defend the body against pathogens and parasites. This occurs when the body cannot differentiate between self and non-self, and it develops autoantibodies that attack the healthy cells (Mackay and Noel 5). Autoimmune disorders are a leading cause of disability and death in America, affecting over 23.5 million people. Examples include Type 1 diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, Graves’ disease, multiple sclerosis, scleroderma, inflammatory bowel disease, psoriasis, and systemic lupus erythematous.
Everyone is at risk of contracting an autoimmune disease, but certain groups are at more risk than others are. For example, childbearing women develop autoimmune disorders at the onset of gestation. People from families with a history of autoimmune disorders are also at risk since they inherit the defective genes, for example, lupus. Ethnicity, or race also predisposes one to the disorders, for example, Hispanics, African Americans, and Native Americans are at a higher risk than their counterparts. People who are exposed to predisposing factors such as solvents, sunlight, and bacterial and viral infections are also at risk.
There are various symptoms of autoimmune diseases, but the most common symptoms include fatigue, malaise, and low fever. The symptoms worsen during flare-ups and the conditions improve during remission. The major body organs affected by autoimmune disorders include endocrine glands, the skin, joints, connective tissues, muscles, blood vessels, and red blood cells. Autoimmune diseases can be detected by determining the antibodies produced by the body. Various tests are used for diagnosis such as antinuclear antibody tests, antibody tests, complete blood count, erythrocyte sedimentation rate, and C-reactive protein. Autoimmune diseases have no known cure, but lifestyle changes could be helpful in reducing the symptoms and controlling the disease process (Roddick Web).
Multiple sclerosis (MS) exemplifies a common autoimmune disorder, which affects the central nervous system. The disorder includes the eating away of the myelin, which protects the nerves in the brain and spinal cord. It is quite unclear what causes the disease, but it is normally due to the destruction of the myelin, blocking or slowing the messages travelling along the nerves to the central nervous system. MS leads to vision problems, lack of balance, and difficulty in muscle movement. Other symptoms associated with the disorder include bladder problems, sexual dysfunction, muscle cramping, fatigue, facial myokymia or irregular twitching, heat intolerance, slurred speech, depression, dizziness, and tremor (Scolding and Alastair 23).
The diagnosis of MS includes family history and patient examination, and conduction of various tests. A patient may be diagnosed with MS if there is suspicion of a dysfunction in the central nervous system such as abnormal reflexes, sensation, pupil responses in the eyes, decreased body movement, and visual problems. Tests include magnetic resonance imaging of the brain, lumbar puncture of the spinal cord, nerve function study, and blood tests. Blood tests rule out possible infections similar to MS. The lumbar puncture extracts spinal fluid to test for abnormal levels of proteins or white blood cells, which are signs of MS. The MRI shows images of the brain and spinal cord, and lesions could indicate a possible presence of MS (Scolding and Alastair 31).
MS has no cure, but therapy and medication to treat attacks and slow the progression of the disease are feasible methods of managing the disease. Corticosteroids help relieve inflammation during a relapse and plasmapheresis helps relieve severe symptoms in patients who are unresponsive to intravenous steroids. Physical therapy such as strengthening exercises and stretching, muscle relaxants, other medications that suppress the pain and fatigue are some of the medications applied to manage multiple sclerosis.
Mackay, Ian, and Noel Rose. The Autoimmune Diseases. Waltham: Elsevier Inc., 2014. Print.
Roddick, Julie. Autoimmune Disease. Health line, 2005. Web. 3 April 2014.
Scolding, Neil, and Alastair Wilkins. Multiple Sclerosis. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012. Print.
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