Attacking Healthy Cells
Autoimmune diseases are conditions in which antibodies attack the body's tissues, organs, or cells. These conditions can affect any organ in the body, although certain diseases attack specific organs.
Who is affected?
Autoimmune diseases can affect anyone, but women are at greater risk. Researchers don't know why this is so, but one theory suggests that the hormone estrogen may play a role. Autoimmune diseases have a variety of causes, although doctors don't yet know them all. Some, such as rheumatic fever, develop after a streptococcal infection. People taking methyldopa for high blood pressure can develop lupus. Some autoimmune diseases run in families, which suggests that genes play a role.
Can autoimmune diseases be cured?
Some autoimmune diseases can go into remission, even without treatment. For the most part, though, autoimmune illnesses are chronic, needing lifelong monitoring and care. Medicine can help reduce or stop the damage caused by some of the diseases. Medicine can also help suppress the immune system's response, helping to ease symptoms caused by the disease.