Because there are so many different types of autoimmune disease that can affect many parts of the body, the signs and symptoms vary. Common organs and tissues affected include muscles, joints, skin, red blood cells, blood vessels, connective tissue, and endocrine glands. Some common symptoms include fatigue, fever, joint pain, a rash, and general malaise, with symptoms tending to worsen during flare-ups and lessen during remission. Compounding the problem further, an individual may have more than one autoimmune disorder.
The cause of most autoimmune diseases is unknown. In addition, there are many theories about what can trigger autoimmune diseases, including bacteria or virus, drugs, chemical irritants, and environmental irritants. Studies have also suggested that there may be an inherited predisposition in many cases.
Treatment for most autoimmune diseases are typically designed to (1) reduce symptoms, (2) control the autoimmune process, and (3) maintain the body's ability to fight the disease. Specific treatment often depends on the type of autoimmune disease and the presenting symptoms. Treatments may include one or more of the following:
- Supplements are used to replace a substance that the body lacks, such as thyroid hormone, vitamin B12, or insulin, due to the autoimmune disease.
- Blood transfusions can be administered, if needed.
Physical therapy is used to help with movement if the bones, joints, or muscles are affected.
- Medication, including immunosuppressive drugs, is used to reduce the immune system's abnormal response. Both corticosteroids and non-steroid drugs may be used to help with the inflammatory process.