Signs, Symptoms, Causes, and Treatment of Autoimmune Diseases

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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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Signs, Symptoms, Causes, and Treatment of Autoimmune Diseases

Because there are so many different types of autoimmune diseases 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, 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. Concurrent autoimmune disease incidence is approximately 25%.
The cause of most autoimmune diseases is unknown. In addition, there are many theories about what can trigger autoimmune diseases, including bacteria or viruses, 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 is typically designed to (1) reduce symptoms, (2) control the autoimmune process, and (3) maintain the body's ability to fight disease and infection. Specific treatment often depends on the type of autoimmune disease and the presenting symptoms. Treatments may include one or more of the following:
  • Supplements to replace a substance 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, to reduce the immune system's abnormal response. Both corticosteroids and non-steroid drugs may be used to help with the inflammatory process.