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The Different Types of Autoimmune Disorders

written by: Elizabeth Stannard Gromisch • edited by: Leigh A. Zaykoski • updated: 10/13/2010

Learn about the autoimmune disorders that occur in the different regions of the body. Includes a list of autoimmune disorders that affect the brain, thyroid, blood cells and vessels, skin and digestive system.

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    Introduction to the List of Autoimmune Disorder

    MedlinePlus states that “an autoimmune disorder is a condition that occurs when the immune system mistakenly attacks and destroys healthy body tissue," resulting in a hypersensitivity reaction. The autoimmune disorder damages the affected tissue, and can also result in abnormal growth or a functional change in a specific organ. The list of autoimmune disorders includes multiple regions of the brain, such as the brain, thyroid gland, skin, digestive system, muscles, and joints.

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    Neurological Autoimmune Disorders

    Neurological autoimmune disorders disrupt normal brain communication, which can result in symptoms elsewhere in the body. The Merck Manual lists multiple sclerosis and myasthenia gravis as two autoimmune disorders that originate in the brain. With multiple sclerosis, the myelin sheath (the protective coating around the axon of a neuron) is damaged, disrupting signals sent from the brain; symptoms include muscle spasms, vision problems, and weakness. Myasthenia gravis also occurs from a break down in the connection between brain and muscles; the main symptom is muscle weakness.

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    Thyroid Gland Autoimmune Disorders

    The Merck Manual lists two autoimmune disorders that have abnormalities in the thyroid gland. With Graves' disease, the patient has hyperthyroidism, where the thyroid produces an excess of hormones; symptoms include a rapid heart rate, tremors, and weight loss. The other disorder, Hashimoto's thyroiditis, results in hypothyroidism, which is an underproduction of hormones; symptoms include weight gain, intolerance to the cold, and coarse skin.

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    Blood Cell and Vessel Autoimmune Disorders

    Blood cells and vessels can also be affected by autoimmune disorders. The Merck Manual notes that autoimmune hemolytic anemia affects the red blood cells, while vasculitis damages the blood vessels. Autoimmune hemolytic anemia causes anemia symptoms, such as fatigue and weakness. Symptoms of vasculitis are rashes, nerve damage, abdominal pain, weight loss, and breathing problems.

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    Skin Autoimmune Disorders

    Two autoimmune disorders that affect the skin, bullous pemphigoid and pemphigus, result in large blisters all over the body, according to the Merck Manual. The swollen blisters from bullous pemphigoid are also swollen and red, and can be itchy.

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    Digestive Autoimmune Disorders

    The digestive system is another area where autoimmune disorders can occur. MedlinePlus states that celiac disease has abnormal villi in the small intestine, which affects gluten digestion; symptoms include abdominal pain, constipation, diarrhea, and behavioral changes. Type 1 diabetes mellitus is another digestive autoimmune disorder, which the Merck Manual states affects the beta cells in the pancreas; the patient has a lack of insulin, as well as an increase in appetite, urination and thirst. The Merck Manual adds that pernicious anemia damages the stomach's lining, so that the patient cannot absorb vitamin B12 efficiently; symptoms include anemia and nerve damage, as well as spinal cord damage if left untreated. MedlinePlus notes that Addison's disease causes a decrease in hormone release from the adrenal gland, causing weakness, loss of appetite, chronic diarrhea, and skin darkening.

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    Muscular Autoimmune Disorders

    MedlinePlus states that dermatomyositis is a muscular autoimmune disorder, where the patient has weakness, a purple-red skin rash, and problems with swallowing and breathing.

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    Other Glandular Autoimmune Disorders

    Sjogren syndrome is an autoimmune disorder that affects the tear and saliva glands, according to MedlinePlus. The patient can have a variety of symptoms, include mouth and eye dryness, difficulty swallowing, and swollen glands.

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    Multiple Organs Autoimmune Disorders

    Some autoimmune disorders affect multiple organs in the patient's body. MedlinePlus states that reactive arthritis damages the joints, urethra, and eyes, resulting in heel and joint pain, eye pain, incontinence, and urinary problems. Rheumatoid arthritis also affects multiple part of the body, according to the Merck Manual, such as the joints, lungs, nerve, skin, and heart; symptoms include weakness, joint stiffness, deformed joints, and loss of sensation. Systemic lupus erythematosus causes damage to the joints, blood, kidneys, skin, brain, lungs, and heart; lupus results in anemia, rashes, and inflamed joints. Goodpasture's syndrome damages the lungs and kidneys, causing fatigue, shortness of breath, swelling, and coughing up blood.

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    References

    MedlinePlus Medical Encyclopedia: Autoimmune Disorders (http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/000816.htm)

    Merck Manual: Autoimmune Disorders (http://www.merck.com/mmhe/sec16/ch186/ch186a.html)

    MedlinePlus Medical Encyclopedia: Celiac Disease (http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/000233.htm)

    MedlinePlus Medical Encyclopedia: Addison's Disease (http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/000378.htm)

    MedlinePlus Medical Encyclopedia: Dermatomyositis (http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/000839.htm)

    MedlinePlus Medical Encyclopedia: Sjogren Syndrome (http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/000456.htm)

    MedlinePlus Medical Encyclopedia: Reactive Arthritis (http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/000440.htm)

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