Systemic autoimmune diseases are a large group of disorders that have a primary pathogenic mechanism that involves the immune system acting on the host itself that leads to tissue destruction and organ dysfunction due to unregulated inflammation. These autoimmune disorders are called collagen vascular diseases or connective tissue diseases. Many autoimmune diseases also involve inflammation of blood vessels, or vasculitis.
The classic autoimmune collagen vascular diseases include:
Systemic lupus erythematosus, often referred to as lupus, involves inflammation of the connective tissues and blood vessels of virtually every organ system
Rheumatoid arthritis is a systemic disorder in which immune cells attack and inflame the membrane around joints. In some patients, it also can affect the heart, lungs and eyes
Scleroderma produces scar tissue in the skin, internal organs and small blood vessels
Sjogren’s syndrome, also called Sjögren's disease, is a chronic, slowly progressing inability to secrete saliva and tears. It can occur alone or with rheumatoid arthritis, scleroderma or lupus
Mixed connective tissue disease is a disorder that features signs and symptoms of various connective tissue diseases such as systemic lupus erythematosus, systemic sclerosis, dermatomyositis, polymyositis and Sjögren’s syndrome. These diseases can coexist and overlap
Psoriatic arthritis is an inflammatory joint condition that occurs in about one in 20 patients with psoriasis
Polyarteritis nodosa is a serious blood vessel disease in which small- and medium-sized arteries become inflamed and damaged
The cause of systemic autoimmune diseases is unknown, but genetic factors predispose individuals to their development. Infections, exposure to toxins or other environmental factors may also play a role. A side effect of some blood pressure drugs, statins or other medications may be triggering an autoimmune disease. Already having an autoimmune disease also makes a person susceptible to acquiring another one.
There are no sure ways to prevent autoimmune diseases. Some suggestions to possibly reduce the risk of developing an autoimmune disease include:
Eating whole, unprocessed foods
Avoiding gluten or food allergies
Increasing vitamin D intake
Maintaining a healthy weight
More than 100 autoimmune diseases have been identified. Most inflammatory and autoimmune diseases have a classic presentation with typical findings that can alert physicians to the specific diagnosis. There are also blood test abnormalities and abnormal antibody patterns that are representative of each disease. However, patients often present with atypical features or develop full-blown clinical syndromes over time which makes it difficult for physicians to make the diagnosis.
Treatment depends on the specific autoimmune disease and the part of the body affected. Medications are generally used to reduce immune response and manage pain. Non-traditional medical methods such as acupuncture, massage or hypnosis may provide relief. Recommendations for healthy lifestyle choices promoting physical and mental health are also included as treatment for inflammatory and autoimmune diseases.