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Understanding Autoimmune Disease

Understanding Autoimmune Disease

A healthy immune system defends your body against infection and disease. In patients with autoimmune disease, the immune system mistakenly attacks parts of your own body. The exact cause of autoimmune disease is unknown, but a combination of genetic factors and environmental triggers is likely involved. 

At Rheumatology and Allergy Institute of Connecticut, LLC, board-certified rheumatologist Barbara Kage, MD, diagnoses and helps patients manage common and rare autoimmune diseases and connective tissue diseases. Here, our team takes a closer look at what you should know about autoimmune disease.

What is autoimmune disease?

Your immune system is a complex network of cells and organs in your body protecting you from germs and other outside intruders. The ability to identify the difference between self and nonself lies at the heart of the immune system. A defect can impair your body's ability to distinguish between what’s yours and what’s not.

When this happens, your body produces autoantibodies that mistakenly target healthy cells. At the same time, regulatory T cells, which are responsible for keeping your immune system in check, fail to do their job. As a result, the immune system launches a mistaken assault against your own cells and tissues.

Who’s at risk for autoimmune disease?

There are more than 100 autoimmune diseases, and they can strike anyone at anytime. However, some individuals are at a heightened risk:

Women: Autoimmune disease affects more women than men.

Individuals with a family history: You’re more likely to develop an autoimmune disease if a close relative has one.

People exposed to specific environmental factors: Some autoimmune disorders can be caused or worsened by certain events or environmental exposures — for example, sunlight, chemical solvents, and viral and bacterial infections.

People of certain ethnic backgrounds: Certain autoimmune diseases are more common or more severe in certain groups of people. Type 1 diabetes, for example, is more common in Caucasians, while lupus affects African Americans and Hispanics more commonly than other groups.

Diagnosing autoimmune disease

Obtaining a diagnosis can be a time-consuming and stressful process. Although each autoimmune disease is distinct, many of them exhibit some of the same symptoms. Many of the symptoms of autoimmune diseases are also found in other types of health problems.

You can help determine the cause of your symptoms by recording your symptoms, even if they seem unrelated, and sharing them with your doctor. Also, make a complete family health history, including extended family members to share with your doctor.

Living with autoimmune disease

Although most autoimmune diseases don’t go away, you can treat your symptoms and manage your disease so you can live your life to the fullest. People with autoimmune diseases can lead active lives — your life objectives shouldn’t have to shift.

However, it’s critical to see a doctor who specializes in these diseases, get a formal diagnosis, adhere to your treatment plan, and make healthy lifestyle choices.

Managing flares is a major part of living well with autoimmune disease. You may notice that certain triggers, such as stress or exposure to sunlight, cause your symptoms to worsen. Knowing your triggers, sticking to your treatment plan, and visiting your doctor on a regular basis can help you avoid flares or prevent them from becoming severe.

Autoimmune disease can have an impact on your daily life, so it's critical to have a team of medical professionals on your side to help you manage your symptoms. When you choose Rheumatology and Allergy Institute of Connecticut, LLC, you're in capable and compassionate hands. 

Call or book online to schedule an appointment for comprehensive evaluation, diagnosis, and treatment. 

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