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Autoimmune Disease: Types, Symptoms, Causes and Treatment

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The human body is like a fortress, and the immune system is the army that protects the fort from invaders such as bacteria and viruses. But when the army fails to identify the enemy, it starts attacking the fortress. Thus, the human body develops numerous diseases, such as lupus, multiple sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis, psoriasis and many more. Such diseases are called autoimmune diseases. Patients with autoimmune diseases experience pain, fatigue, dizziness, rashes, depression, and other symptoms.

The blog discusses autoimmune diseases, their types, causes, and various treatment options.

What are autoimmune diseases?

The function of an immune system is to protect the body from foreign bodies, including viruses, bacteria and parasites . It does so by sending antibodies to fight against foreign bodies. But when the immune system recognises the body’s tissues as invaders, it sends autoantibodies to attack the healthy tissues, making the body vulnerable to inflammation, causing autoimmune disease. Certain autoimmune disease target one organ, while others may target the entire body.

Researchers have found more than 100 autoimmune diseases. Common ones include lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, Crohn’s disease, and ulcerative colitis. Each disorder has its symptoms, but the common symptoms include pain, fatigue, rashes, nausea, headaches, dizziness, and others.

What are the types of autoimmune diseases?

Although there are more than 100 autoimmune diseases, the following are some of the common ones:

  • Type 1 diabetes: Pancreas generates insulin to regulate blood sugar levels. But in type 1 diabetes patients, their immune system attacks and destroys insulin-producing cells in the pancreas. 
  • Rheumatoid arthritis (RA): The immune system attacks the joints, causing redness, warmth, soreness, and stiffness. Individuals can develop RA as early as 30 years or sooner. 
  • Psoriasis or psoriatic arthritis: Skin cells constantly grow and shed when not required. However, patients with psoriasis have skin cells that rapidly grow, leading to build-up, inflammation, red patches, and plaques. Nearly 30% of individuals with this disorder experience swelling, stiffness, and joint paints, resulting in psoriatic arthritis.
  • Multiple sclerosis: The immune system damages the protective layer of the nerve cells in the central nervous system, known as the myelin sheath, resulting in reduced transmission of messages between the brain, spinal cord, and the rest of the body. It results in numbness, weakness, instability, and walking problems. Several patients experience varying levels of disease progression. Research studies showed that nearly 50% of MS patients need walking assistance within 15 years of diagnosis.
  • Inflammatory bowel disease: The disease causes inflammation in the lining of the intestine wall. 
  • Addison’s disease: Adrenal glands produce cortisol, androgen, and aldosterone hormones. But Addison’s disease affects the adrenal glands, leading to a deficiency of aldosterone and decreased sodium and increased potassium in the bloodstream. Weakness, fatigue, weight loss, and low blood sugar are some of the symptoms of Addison’s disease. 
  • Graves’ disease affects the neck’s thyroid gland, increasing hormone production. The thyroid is responsible for producing hormones that control metabolism. However, the overproduction of hormones results in nervousness, rapid heartbeat, heat intolerance, and severe weight loss. 
  • Sjogren’s syndrome attacks the glands that lubricate the eyes and mouth. Dry mouth and dry eyes are the classic symptoms of this disease. But for some patients, it also affects the joints and skin. 
  • Hashimoto’s thyroiditis: Patients with this disorder have a deficiency of thyroid hormone leading to weight gain, increased sensitivity to cold, fatigue, extreme hair loss, and goitre.
  • Myasthenia gravis damages the nerve impulses that control the  muscles. When there is an impairment of communication from the nerves to the muscles, it leads to muscle weakness. 
  • Autoimmune vasculitis: When the immune system attacks blood vessels, it results in the narrowing of arteries and veins. Thus, it leads to decrease in blood flow. 
  • Pernicious anaemia: In this condition, the patient develops a protein deficiency produced by the stomach lining cells. These proteins are essential for the absorption of vitamin B12 from food. A deficiency of this vitamin causes anaemia.  
  • Celiac disease: Celiac disease patients cannot process gluten in wheat, rye, and grain products. The small intestine receives gluten. The immune system attacks it, causing inflammation. A research study in 2015 showed that nearly 1% of people in the United States have Celiac disease. 
  • Systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE): In the 1800s, it was considered a skin disease due to skin rashes. However, today, the systemic form affects several organs and body parts, such as joints, kidneys, the brain, and the heart. Some symptoms of SLE are joint pain, fatigue, and rashes.
  • Autoimmune hepatitis: When the immune system attacks the liver cells, it causes liver inflammation. If treatments fail, a liver transplant may be an option. 
  • Autoimmune myositis: The inflammation of the muscle due to an attack from the immune system is called autoimmune myositis. Polymyositis, dermatomyositis, and inclusion body myositis are some types of autoimmune myositis. 

What are the symptoms of autoimmune diseases?

Although there are various types of autoimmune diseases, most of them have common symptoms, such as the following:

  • Tiredness
  • Pain and inflammation of the joints
  • Skin issues
  • Pain in the abdominal and digestive issue
  • Recurring fever
  • Inflammation of the glands
  • Skin rashes 
  • Difficulty concentrating

The symptoms of autoimmune hepatitis are as follows:

  • Tiredness, exhaustion, and lack of motivation
  • Yellowing of the skin
  • Pain in the joint and upper abdomen
  • Rashes, acne, and other skin conditions
  • Low appetite
  • Dark urine and light-coloured stools
  • Nausea and vomiting

Patients of Celiac disease experience the following symptoms:

  • Diarrhoea 
  • Tiredness
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Extreme pain in the joints, bones, and stomach
  • Excessive gas

If a person has Crohn’s disease, they may develop the following symptoms:

  • Low red blood cell count
  • Cramping and pain in the stomach
  • Extreme weight loss
  • Diarrhoea 
  • Fever 
  • Nausea 
  • Low appetite
  • Pain in the joint and eye
  • Red, bumpy skin rashes 

The symptoms of Grave’s disease are as follows:

  • Arrhythmia 
  • Anxiety 
  • Weight loss
  • Extreme sense of feeling hot
  • Increased sweating
  • Diarrhoea 
  • Tiredness and muscle weakness
  • Hand tremors and shaking
  • Troubled sleeping

Hashimoto’s thyroiditis has the following symptoms:

  • Unexpected fatigue
  • Increased weight gain
  • Increased sense of feeling cold
  • Muscle cramps
  • Constipation
  • Stiffness in the joint
  • Hair loss
  • Heavy or irregular menstrual cycle
  • Slow heartbeat
  • Hives 
  • Infertility

Multiple Sclerosis patients experience the following: 

  • Tiredness
  • Weakness, numbness, and tingling
  • A sudden sensation of electrical shocks in the limbs and back
  • Dizziness
  • Issues with the vision
  • Troubled walking

Pernicious anaemia symptoms are as follows:

  • Pale skin
  • Depression
  • Troubled walking 
  • Cold, tingling, or numbness in the hands and feet
  • A red and swollen tongue
  • Cognitive disability
  • Diarrhea, bloating, and heartburn

Rheumatoid arthritis presents the following symptoms:

  • Fatigue
  • Pain in the muscles and joints
  • Low-grade fever
  • Weight loss

The symptoms of Sjogren’s syndrome are as follows:

  • Dryness in lips, skin, nasal passages, throat, and vagina 
  • Tiredness
  • Inflammation in the salivary glands
  • Trouble swallowing
  • Changes in the sense of taste and smell
  • Cognitive disability 
  • Headaches and stomach aches
  • Increase in dental activities 
  • Eye infections

The symptoms of systemic lupus erythematosus are as follows:

  • Fatigue
  • Fever
  • Increased hair loss
  • Butterfly-shaped rashes across cheeks, nose, and eyelids
  • Lung and kidney issues
  • Inflammation and pain in the joints and muscles
  • Dry mouth, dry eyes, and painful mouth sores
  • Blood clots

The following are the symptoms of type 1 diabetes:

  • Frequent urination
  • Excessive thirst
  • Blurred vision 
  • Unexplained and sudden weight loss
  • Increased hunger
  • Fatigue
  • Numbness and tingling in hands and feet
  • Dry skin
  • Sores
  • Increased infection

Patients of autoimmune hepatitis experience the following symptoms:

  • Fatigue
  • Discomfort in the abdomen 
  • Enlarged liver and jaundice
  • Rashes on the skin
  • Unusual blood vessels 
  • Minimal menstrual period 
  • Joint pains

When to seek medical help?

If a person is experiencing any of the symptoms mentioned above or is already experiencing severe or new signs of autoimmune disease, seek immediate medical assistance

What causes autoimmune diseases?

The exact cause of autoimmune diseases is not known. But certain risk factors contribute to the development of autoimmune diseases, such as the following:

  • Medications: certain medications for blood pressure, statins, and antibiotics contribute to the development of autoimmune disease
  • Family history of autoimmune diseases
  • Smoking
  • Exposure to toxins
  • A pre-existing autoimmune disease
  • Obesity 
  • Infections
  • Women have a greater tendency 

How are autoimmune diseases diagnosed?

After a detailed investigation of the symptoms and medical history, the healthcare provider conducts blood tests, and the following tests:

Certain autoimmune conditions  with specific blood markers may help doctors prove that a person suffers from an autoimmune disease.

What are the various treatment options for autoimmune diseases?

There is no cure for autoimmune diseases. But a combination of various treatments helps mitigate the effects of the symptoms. The doctors prescribe the following medications: 

  • Nonsteroidal antiinflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), including ibuprofen and naproxen
  • Immune-suppressing drugs
  • Pain-killers
  • Antiinflammatory medications
  • Insulin injection
  • Plasma exchange
  • Corticosteroids
  • Rash creams 
  • Intravenous immune globulin

A well-balanced diet, regular exercise, lifestyle changes, may also help relieve the symptoms.

What are the complications of autoimmune diseases?

Autoimmune diseases have several potential complications for serious health complications. The complications vary by condition. However, some of the more common complications are as follows:

  • Heart disease: Several conditions, such as lupus and rheumatoid arthritis, affect the heart.
  • Mood disorders: chronic and constant pain and fatigue, the common symptoms of many autoimmune diseases, may cause a patient to feel depressed and anxious.
  • Neuropathy: Rheumatoid arthritis, Sjogren’s syndrome, and other autoimmune diseases may cause nerve damage, resulting in numbness and weakness in the arms and legs. 
  • Deep vein thrombosis: Autoimmune diseases, including ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease, increases a patient’s risk of developing blood clots. Such clots may travel to the lungs, causing a blockage called pulmonary embolism
  • Organ damage: Autoimmune diseases affecting specific organs, if left untreated, can cause significant damage leading to organ failure.


Autoimmune diseases may be incurable but can be managed with treatments and lifestyle changes. Therefore, getting treated at the earliest helps prolonged lifespan and improve quality of life. 

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Are autoimmune diseases genetic?

Some autoimmune diseases are genetic.

Do autoimmune diseases disappear?

Unfortunately no, autoimmune diseases do not disappear. Most of these diseases are chronic. 

Are autoimmune diseases preventable?

Autoimmune diseases are not preventable. But some doctors believe that performing the following can help:

  • Exercising regularly and staying active
  • Avoiding smoking
  • Including a healthy diet
  • Avoiding processed food
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