Autoimmune disease: cause, symptoms and treatment – how it differs from an allergy

A doctor measures a patient's blood pressure (symbol image)

an autoimmune disease can cause symptoms similar to those of an allergy. In contrast to allergies, however, the immune system is directed against the body’s own substances and reacts with dangerous inflammatory reactions.

Keel- Normally, the immune system protect the body from foreign substances and pathogens such as bacteria, viruses, and parasites by initiating a defensive reaction upon contact. In the case of autoimmune disease the immune system recognizes endogenous substances considered foreign and reacts with an exuberant immune response. This leads to inflammatory reactions that can cause severe damage to the tissue. It is estimated that about five to eight percent of all people from one of the almost 100 different autoimmune diseases affected. The symptoms of autoimmune diseases may resemble those of a allergy ähneln. The cause of allergic symptoms, however, is a pathogenic overreaction to harmless exogenous proteins (allergens).

autoimmune disease: causes and development

The mechanisms involved in autoimmune diseases to a impaired tolerance of the immune system The causes of autoimmune diseases, which can lead to severe damage to the body’s own substances, have not been conclusively clarified scientifically. Several factors are thought to play a role in the development of allergy development of autoimmune diseases play a role. On the one hand, there are genetic factors, on the other hand, various triggering factors such as infections, pregnancies, stress or also certain medications as cause the disease in question. Likewise, there are, similar to allergies, the assumption that exaggerated hygiene in western industrialized nations makes the immune system more susceptible to malfunctions due to "lack of training.

In some autoimmune diseases are individual organs affected, for example the thyroid gland in hashimoto-thyroiditis or nerve cells in multiple sclerosis (organ-specific autoimmune disease). In others tissue structures throughout the body affected, such as the skin in psoriasis or the connective tissue in joints and tendons in rheumatoid arthritis. These forms of autoimmune disease are called systemic autoimmune diseases designates. Women are more likely to develop autoimmune diseases than men. In addition, older people are affected more often than younger people.

Autoimmune disease: celiac disease and other common diseases

A well-known autoimmune disease is the celiac disease. This is often mistakenly attributed to the allergies assigned to. In celiac disease, the gluten protein triggers inflammation in the small intestine. the immune system attacks the body’s own proteins in the mucous membrane of the small intestine and forms iga antibodies. The antibodies destroy the villi (folds) of the intestinal mucosa, whose surface is reduced as a result. As a result, nutrients can no longer be absorbed properly and malnutrition is imminent. Not to be confused with celiac disease with the gluten intolerance or one wheat allergy. While the immune system is not involved in gluten intolerance, it forms ige antibodies against wheat components in wheat allergy.

In addition to celiac disease, almost one hundred different autoimmune diseases are known to occur. The most common are listed in the following list:

  • Multiple sclerosis
  • diabetes mellitus type 1
  • ulcerative colitis
  • pemphigus vulgaris
  • myasthenia gravis
  • basedow’s disease
  • rheumatoid arthritis
  • Lupus erythematosus (reactions against numerous organs)
  • polymyositis (inflammation of the muscles)
  • Scleroderma (hardening of connective tissue of skin, vessels and internal organs)
  • Systemic vasculitis (inflammation of the blood vessels)
  • anti-phospholipid syndrome (blood clotting disorder)

An overview of all autoimmune disease and detailed information on the respective clinical pictures is offered by the german society for autoimmune diseases (dgfae) in kiel.

Autoimmune disease: symptoms and diagnosis

Which symptoms at a autoimmune disease depends largely on the disease in question and the organs affected. Since a wide variety of complaints can occur, the diagnosis often only after other illnesses have been ruled out and the patient has suffered for a long time. For the diagnosis the doctor will initially show the patient in the anamnesis ask in detail about the medical history. Possible further diagnosis differ depending symptoms and range from arthroscopies, biopsies, blood tests, colonoscopies, joint punctures, lung function tests, neurological examinations, stool tests and hemoccult tests. At systemic autoimmune diseases the detection of so-called antinuclear antibody (ANA) indications of a autoimmune disease give. These are autoantibodies (AAK) against components of the cell nuclei.

In rare cases, existing immune cells are destroyed by a chemotherapy destroyed and the immune system subsequently destroyed by a stem cell transplantation re "built". This form of treatment of autoimmune disease However, it involves enormous risks and is rarely carried out. An important step in treatment is also to avoid triggers of the disease (such as high stress) as much as possible.

this article contains only general information on the respective health topic and is therefore not intended for self-diagnosis, self-treatment or self-medication. It does not replace a visit to the doctor. unfortunately, our editors are not allowed to answer individual questions about medical conditions.

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