Understanding Autoimmune Diseases
As a Rheumatologist, I often have to explain to patients what it means
to have an autoimmune disease. To understand what an autoimmune disease
is we must first define what an antibody is. An antibody is protein that
is made in large amounts by the immune system. They are essential in recognizing
and fighting infectious organisms in the body. Sometimes these antibodies
make an error and mistakenly recognize normal proteins in our bodies as
being foreign. When this happens an autoimmune disease can develop and
as a result, your immune system attacks healthy body cells.
Autoimmune disease affects up to 50 million Americans and often affects
women. However, it is important to note that autoimmune diseases are seen
in multiple medical fields including gastroenterology, dermatology, endocrinology,
allergy/immunology and rheumatology. Common autoimmune diseases include
Systemic Lupus Erythematosus,
Diabetes Type I,
Inflammatory Bowel Disease such as Ulcerative Colitis, and Psoriasis.
No one is certain as to what causes an autoimmune disease although there
are many theories regarding potential triggers such as environmental irritants,
chemical irritants, and bacteria/virus. There also tends to be a genetic
component as it is seen to run in families.
Because there are about 80 different types of autoimmune diseases, symptoms
tend to vary from one to the next. However, the most common symptoms include
feeling ill, fatigue, and fever. Autoimmune diseases also can affect many
parts of the body including the skin, joints, gastrointestinal tract,
kidneys, and muscles.
Diagnosis is made by the combination of laboratory tests, clinical history
and physical exam. If you have a concern about a possible autoimmune disease,
the first step is to see your primary care physician. Your physician can
send you to the appropriate specialist who can then make sure you will
get the best care for your particular diagnosis.
Sheetal Gavankar, M.D.
serves as a rheumatologist for Hoag Medical Group. She works at the Huntington
Beach and Newport Beach locations. For more information or to schedule
an appointment, please call 714-477-8020 (Huntington Beach) or 949-791-3002
(Newport Beach) or visit www.HoagMedicalGroup.com.