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The page below is a sample from the LabCE course Autoimmune Diseases and Antinuclear Antibody Testing: Methods and Staining Patterns. Access the complete course and earn ASCLS P.A.C.E.-approved continuing education credits by subscribing online.

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Autoimmune Disease Definition and Overview

Autoimmune diseases are a group of disorders where the body's immune system malfunctions and attacks its own tissues. As a result, the immune system attacks healthy cells. Depending on the type, an autoimmune disease can affect one or many different types of body tissue and can also cause abnormal organ growth and changes in organ function.
There are as many as 80 different types of autoimmune diseases. Many of them have similar symptoms, which makes them very difficult to diagnose. It’s also possible to have more than one at the same time. Autoimmune diseases usually fluctuate between periods of remission (little or no symptoms) and flare-ups (worsening symptoms). There is no curative therapy for autoimmune diseases, so current treatments focus on relieving symptoms. 
Autoimmune disease affects up to 50 million Americans and often runs in families. Approximately 75% of those individuals affected with autoimmune disease are women. African Americans, Hispanics, and Native Americans tend to have an increased risk of developing an autoimmune disease.