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Autoimmune conditions occur due to the body’s immune system producing proteins (anti-nuclear antibodies) that fight certain healthy tissues and organs. Here, we'll discuss the most commonly occurring ones.
We don’t know why autoimmune conditions occur but there are theories about microorganisms, chemical and environmental irritants, drugs and genetic factors being involved that may trigger these conditions. There is no cure for these issues but there are ways in which one can manage their progression.

Effects of autoimmune diseases

Autoimmune conditions have one of three characteristic pathological effects which allows the conditions to be classified as autoimmune issues. They are:

  • Damage or destruction of the affected tissues.
  • Modified organ function.
  • Changed organ growth.

Symptoms

It's important to remember that autoimmune conditions can affect many parts of the body. This means that symptoms can be non-specific and generalized in nature. The symptoms could include fever, fatigue and a general feeling of being unwell (malaise). These symptoms tend to improve during remission phases and get worse during flare-up episodes.

How is the diagnosis made?

A complete and accurate history, a physical examination of the patient and a high index of suspicion will point the doctor in the right direction regarding appropriate tests that need to be done.

Blood tests which could point to autoimmune conditions include inflammatory markers such as elevated white cell counts on a full blood count (FBC), an elevated C-reactive protein (CRP) and an elevated erythrocyte sedimentation rate (ESR). Other serological tests, such as auto-antibody tests, can also be requested depending on the signs and symptoms the patient is presenting with.

Ultrasounds, CT scans and X-rays can be done to investigate organs, tissue and bones which may be involved in the suspected autoimmune disorder.

Preventative measures

There are some measures which can be taken by the affected individual to regulate their immune system in order to reduce symptoms of autoimmune conditions.

These measures can include the following:

  • Omega-3 fatty acid supplementation - Omega-3 fatty acids counteract the effects or arachidonic acids which aggravate symptoms of autoimmune conditions. This fatty acid is included in the treatment protocols of issues such as rheumatoid arthritis, asthma, inflammatory bowel disease and psoriasis. Omega-3 is also used to decrease the physiological symptoms of depression as they are autoimmune and inflammatory in nature.
  • Sunlight/conversion of vitamin D - adequate levels of vitamin D in the body allow for a better functioning immune system. This is due to the fact that T and B immune cells include receptors for vitamin D to bond to them.
  • Probiotics - Bacteria such as Lactobacillus casei have shown to stimulate the immune response against tumours and also regulate immune function. This has resulted in the prevention of type 1 diabetes mellitus.
  • Antioxidants - It's been hypothesized that type 1 diabetes is as a result of free radical formation. It has been thought then that a high intake of antioxidant supplement by pregnant mothers could counter this effect.
  • Reduce stress - Emotional and physical stressors can cause the release of cortisol and catecholamines which negatively impact the immune system. This would then result in an increased risk of flare-ups. Regular exercise and relaxation techniques would be very beneficial in this regard. 
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