By Rebecca McKinsey
Autoimmune diseases—the unpredictable, complex conditions that exist in the neighborhood of 100 variations—have one thing in common: they weaponize the immune system. But some of the diseases that are categorized as autoimmune may surprise you, and research is ever-evolving on new diseases that have autoimmune underpinnings.
Here are six of them.
1. Type 1 diabetes
The National Institutes of Health describes type 1 diabetes as an “organ-specific” autoimmune disease. In people with this type of diabetes, the immune system destroys pancreatic B-cells, which are used to create insulin.
According to the Diabetes Teaching Center at the University of California, San Francisco, “This autoimmune process is thought to smolder for years, and there are individuals at risk of developing diabetes who do not yet have the diagnosis.”
2. Multiple sclerosis
An attack by the immune system on the protective covering of nerve fibers results in this disease that affects the brain and spinal cord. Communication between the brain and the body is disrupted, often leading to permanent nerve damage.
Some people may go long periods with no symptoms, while others can experience effects as severe as losing the ability to walk.
3. Guillain-Barre syndrome
In this rare disorder, the immune system attacks the nerves, causing tingling and weakness and, in some cases, full-body paralysis, severe pain, and difficulty breathing. The condition typically requires hospitalization to treat.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, two-thirds of people with Guillain-Barre were sick with diarrhea or respiratory illness before developing symptoms. On very rare occasions, people develop the disease after getting a vaccination.
This common skin condition is manifested in an attack by an overactive immune system on the body’s healthy tissues. It causes red, scaly, itchy, painful skin.
Some people also develop psoriatic arthritis, which causes joint pain, swelling, and stiffness.
5. Celiac disease
Although Celiac disease is classified separately from two other autoimmune diseases causing similar symptoms—Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis—it is also rooted in the immune system.
When people with Celiac disease ingest gluten, which is found in wheat, barley, and rye, their immune system damages their small intestine—causing abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, headaches, joint pain, or fatigue. Symptoms improve markedly with a gluten-free diet.
6. Chronic Lyme disease
Chronic Lyme disease typically describes instances in which Lyme disease symptoms are prolonged or prompt other health issues, according to the National Institutes of Health.
Recent studies have found a link between Lyme disease, most often associated with tick bites, and the autoimmune system. What starts as an immune response to the disease has, in some cases, extended to an immune attack on the body’s healthy cells, according to Johns Hopkins Medicine. •