The first step of understanding autoimmunity is to understand your immune system. The immune system is the body’s defence against invaders and other foreign objects. Through a series of steps called the immune response, your immune system attacks those invaders. When the immune system detects an invader, several types of cells work together to recognize the invader and to respond by producing antibodies. Antibodies lock onto the invader, and with the help of other “killer cells”, destroy invaders that have been tagged by antibodies. All of these specialised cells are part of the immune system and protect the body against disease. This protection is called immunity.
Autoimmunity happens when your immune system can no longer tell “self” from “non self”. Your immune system sees your own cells as invaders and trigger an immune response to attack those cells. Autoimmune diseases all look different but have one thing in common, an immune system that attacks your own cells. For some the thyroid is under attack, for others the intestines, the skin, the brain and many other organs. No matter what part of your body is under attack, the problem does not necessarily lie with that part of the body but rather with the immune system. Autoimmune disease is therefore a disease of the immune system.
GLOBAL STATISTICS ON AUTOIMMUNE DISEASES
- According to AARDA (American Autoimmune Related Diseases Association) there are more than 100 identified autoimmune diseases. Click here for the complete list of autoimmune diseases.
- Women are at a greater risk of autoimmune disease than men. Researchers are unsure why, but hormonal factors or the fact that women tend to have stronger immune systems may play a role.
- Some autoimmune diseases are rare, while others, such as Hashimoto’s disease, affect many people.
- According to AARDA, 50 million Americans suffer from an autoimmune disease. The global numbers are not known but data suggest that 5 – 10% of the world population are affected by autoimmune disease.
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