There are over 100 autoimmune conditions, including celiac disease, type 1 diabetes, and psoriasis. These occur when the immune system mistakenly attacks parts of the human body.
This statistic comes from the Autoimmune Association.
Autoimmune diseases are common, affecting more than
This article provides a list of autoimmune diseases and their symptoms.
The following sections will discuss some autoimmune conditions affecting the skin.
Psoriasis causes patches of flaky, inflamed skin. This occurs due to the skin producing too many new skin cells. Psoriasis is usually not a serious condition, but it can be painful or distressing.
The symptoms of psoriasis
- thick, inflamed patches of skin, usually on the head, elbows, and knees
- scaly skin
- poor sleep quality
Vitiligo is a chronic condition that causes the skin to lose its color. One type of vitiligo, called non-segmental vitiligo, is an autoimmune disease.
The symptoms of vitiligo include:
- white or light patches of skin on the hands, feet, arms, and face
- white or gray hair on the scalp, brows, or eyelashes
- discoloration on the inside of the mouth and nose
Vitiligo is not harmful to the body, but it can be very distressing for some people, especially those with darker skin. Certain treatments can slow or stop the discoloration, including medications and UV light therapy.
Scleroderma causes an abnormal growth of connective tissue in the skin and blood vessels, leading to skin that is hard and thick.
In some people, the condition is mild, but in others, scleroderma can affect internal organs and be life threatening.
- Raynaud’s phenomenon, which causes the fingers to change color when they are cold
- calcium deposits in the connective tissues
- thickening and tightness of the skin on the fingers and toes
- loss of motility in the esophagus, which may make it difficult to swallow
- red spots or blood vessels on the face
- progressive shortness of breath
- ulcers on the fingertips, which can lead to gangrene
There is currently no cure for scleroderma. Treatment is directed at managing symptoms and complications. Sometimes, a doctor may also recommend immunosuppressants, especially for fibrosing (scarring) lung disease.
The following sections will discuss some autoimmune conditions affecting the blood.
- shortness of breath
- cardiovascular problems, including heart failure
- cold hands or feet
- yellow skin or whites of the eyes
A doctor might also consider a splenectomy, which refers to the surgical removal of the spleen. The spleen removes damaged red blood cells from circulation, so by removing it, a person is less likely to have low red blood cell levels.
However, autoimmune processes can also affect other blood cells. When they affect platelets, it can lead to thrombocytopenia. When they affect white blood cells, it can give rise to leukopenia, lymphopenia, and neutropenia.
The following sections will discuss some autoimmune conditions affecting the digestive system.
If a person with celiac disease eats gluten, they
- abdominal bloating and pain
- chronic diarrhea
- weight loss
- joint pain
- missed menstrual periods
- an itchy rash
Repeated exposure to gluten may damage the intestinal lining. However, most people with celiac disease can prevent these symptoms
Inflammatory bowel disease
- abdominal pain
- diarrhea, which is sometimes bloody
- painful or difficult bowel movements
- rectal bleeding
- weight loss
- mouth ulcers
People with IBD, specifically CD, may see an improvement in symptoms and their quality of life by changing their eating habits. Medications such as aminosalicylates, corticosteroids, and immunosuppressants — including biologics — can also help. Meanwhile, a total colectomy may cure a person of UC.
The following sections will discuss some autoimmune conditions affecting the hormones.
Type 1 diabetes
Without the hormone, a person’s blood sugar level remains high, causing symptoms
- extreme thirst
- a frequent need to urinate
- feeling hungrier than usual
- unintentional weight loss
- slow wound healing
- dry or itchy skin
- numbness or tingling in the hands or feet
- blurry vision
People with type 1 diabetes can manage the condition with daily insulin injections to balance out the amount of carbohydrates they eat.
Unlike type 2 diabetes, a person cannot prevent type 1 diabetes by making diet or lifestyle changes. However, monitoring diet and exercise levels can help reduce symptoms.
- heat sensitivity
- muscle weakness
- weight loss
- light menstrual periods or no periods
- bulging eyes
- shaky hands
- racing heartbeat
There are several treatment options for Graves’ disease. Antithyroid medications can lower thyroid hormone levels, and radioactive iodine damages the thyroid cells so that they do not produce as much hormone. In severe cases, a doctor may recommend removing part or all of the thyroid gland.
Hashimoto’s thyroiditis is an autoimmune condition wherein the immune system attacks the thyroid gland, causing it to produce less thyroid hormone.
This usually leads to an underactive thyroid, which causes symptoms
- hair loss
- muscle aches
- facial swelling
- weight gain
- heavy menstrual periods
- sensitivity to cold
- joint pain
The main treatment for Hashimoto’s thyroiditis is a daily dose of levothyroxine, which increases thyroid hormone levels.
The following sections will discuss some autoimmune conditions affecting the nervous system.
In multiple sclerosis (MS), the immune system mistakenly attacks the myelin sheath that protects the nerves. This causes damage, affecting the transmission of information to and from the brain and spinal cord and the nerves they connect with.
The symptoms of MS
- weakness in the extremities
- difficulty with coordination, balance, speaking, and walking
- numbness or tingling in the arms, legs, hands, and feet
- vision loss
There is currently no cure for MS, but some medications may reduce the symptoms and the underlying disease process. The type of medication that the condition responds to will vary from case to case.
- muscle weakness and unsteadiness
- vision problems
- difficulty chewing or swallowing
- pins and needles in the hands or feet
- lack of bladder control
- chronic pain
- unusual heart rate or blood pressure
- breathing problems
Guillain-Barre syndrome is a rare condition that can be severe, but with medical support, recovery is possible.
The following sections will discuss some autoimmune conditions affecting the joints.
Rheumatoid arthritis occurs when the immune system attacks the lining of the joints (synovium), causing inflammation and discomfort. Rheumatoid arthritis
- pain or aching in the joints
- stiffness in multiple joints, especially in the morning
- tenderness and swelling
- weight loss
- eye inflammation
- lung disease
- lumps of tissue under the skin, often near the elbows (rheumatoid nodules)
Doctors tend to treat this condition using antirheumatic drugs, including biologics, that slow disease progression and prevent joint deformity.
Below are frequently asked questions relating to autoimmune conditions.
What triggers autoimmune disease?
There are over 100 autoimmune diseases, often with varying triggers. However, infections, exposure to irritants, and lifestyle factors such as smoking and obesity are common triggers.
Can you live a long life with an autoimmune disease?
With proper treatment and management techniques, many autoimmune diseases are not fatal, and people
Can a dermatologist diagnose an autoimmune disease?
Autoimmune diseases can present in different ways and vary in ease of diagnosis.
Certain diseases, such as psoriasis and scleroderma, primarily affect the skin, and dermatologists may be able to diagnose these.
However, other conditions may require input from several healthcare professionals to reach a correct diagnosis.
What are the most common autoimmune diseases?
There are more than 100 known autoimmune diseases. Some of the most
- multiple sclerosis
- type 1 diabetes
- rheumatoid arthritis
What does an autoimmune flare-up feel like?
Symptoms of an autoimmune flare-up will depend on the body area it affects. For example, rheumatoid arthritis flares will cause pain and swelling in joints, while psoriasis flares may cause swelling and scaling on the skin.
There are many autoimmune diseases. Some cause distressing symptoms that affect a person’s quality of life but otherwise are not life threatening. Other autoimmune conditions are more serious and can cause lasting tissue damage.
In many cases, management strategies such as taking medication, modifying the diet, and making lifestyle changes can help reduce the symptoms.
A doctor can help diagnose and recommend treatments for specific autoimmune conditions.