9 Autoimmune Diseases You Should Know About

With various symptoms that wax and wane, autoimmune diseases can happen to anyone.

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Some health conditions are considered autoimmune diseases. Common ones include lupus, type 1 diabetes, and vasculitis. Read on to learn more about what they are and the most common autoimmune diseases.

What To Know About Autoimmune Diseases

Autoimmune diseases happen because your immune system incorrectly identifies healthy cells or tissues as things that don't belong in the body—like viruses or bacteria. This results in damage of those cells and tissues.

Anyone can get an autoimmune disease. Having one autoimmune disease increases the likelihood of a person ending up with another. Also, autoimmune diseases can be hard to diagnose because autoimmune diseases can share symptoms.

Common Autoimmune Diseases

More than 80 kinds of autoimmune disorders exist. Here are a few that tend to be common.


Lupus can attack the skin, joints, blood vessels, or internal organs, causing inflammation. Systemic lupus erythematosus, or SLE, is the most common and serious type of this disorder. Lupus can have flare-ups and periods of remission.

Its most distinctive feature is a butterfly-shaped rash across the cheeks and nose. Other common symptoms include fatigue, pain, joint swelling, skin rashes on sun-exposed areas, and fever. Lupus can also cause:

  • Anemia
  • Chest pain when breathing
  • Fingers that turn white or blue when they're cold
  • Hair loss
  • Mouth ulcers
  • Swelling in the hands, legs, feet, or around the eyes

It's believed that genetic, hormonal, and environmental factors cause lupus. Potential environmental triggers include fatigue, stress, infection, and exposure to ultraviolet light.

Also, taking certain medicines, such as sulfa drugs, may lead to lupus flare-ups. Side effects of sulfa medications may be:

  • Photosensitivity, also called sun sensitivity
  • Reduced blood counts
  • Skin rash

Of note, researchers have found that sulfa drug allergies were higher in individuals who had been diagnosed with SLE.

Lupus treatment aims to ease pain and inflammation. Individuals with lupus are prescribed corticosteroids to suppress inflammation and antimalarial drugs to prevent flares as first-line treatments. Anti-inflammatory medicines like aspirin, ibuprofen, or acetaminophen may also be beneficial.


Psoriasis is an autoimmune disease that affects the skin. There are eight types of psoriasis, including plaque, scalp, and nail psoriasis. Depending on the type of psoriasis and where flares are located, the skin condition can result in symptoms like:

  • Flaky plaques of skin
  • Nail changes
  • Silvery scales
  • Skin irritation or redness

Psoriasis most commonly affects the knees, elbows, and lower back, but it can happen anywhere. It can be made worse by triggers such as stress, infections, and dry air or skin.

Though psoriasis can start between the ages of 15 and 35—or in older individuals—anyone can have the condition. It's not contagious but can affect families from generation to generation.

There are various treatments for psoriasis, including topical treatments like creams and lotions, pills, injections, and phototherapy. Disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs (DMARDs) and biologics, which are biological response modifiers, are two types of immunosuppressant drugs that can be part of the treatment plan.

You can also treat psoriasis with home remedies, including oatmeal baths and relaxation techniques.

Multiple Sclerosis

When the body starts to attack its central nervous system, multiple sclerosis (MS) is likely the culprit. There are four types of MS based on how symptoms progress. MS generally causes damage to nerve cells and leads to scar tissue, known as sclerosis.

There's no specific diagnostic test for the disease. However, healthcare providers may use multiple tests to help diagnose MS, like:

  • Blood tests
  • Evoked potential, a test that examines nervous system response
  • Lumbar puncture, also known as a spinal tap
  • MRIs

Also, one patient can experience different symptoms from another. Early signs may be more physical, while later symptoms may affect a person's mood or cognition.

Certain factors—like genetics, Epstein-Barr virus (EBV), and environmental factors—can raise one's risk of developing the disease. Additionally, there is no cure for MS, but treatment may help:

  • Decrease the number of relapses
  • Delay the effects of disease progression
  • Reduce severe relapses
  • Relieve symptoms

Corticosteroids, immunomodulators, muscle relaxers, anticonvulsants, and supportive care are all MS treatments.

Rheumatoid Arthritis

Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is an inflammatory autoimmune disease. This type of arthritis primarily affects joints in the hands, wrists, and knees. The inflammation as a result of RA occurs on both sides of the body, which is known as symmetric polyarthritis.

The inflammation that RA causes may result in pain, a lack of balance, and deformities. RA symptoms may get worse or better at any time. These symptoms may include:

  • Fatigue
  • Joint tenderness, stiffness, or swelling
  • Weakness
  • Weight loss

A range of risk factors for developing RA includes smoking, genetics, and lung diseases. Genetic and environmental factors, in addition to sex hormones, might play roles in why individuals may develop the inflammatory disease.

Healthcare providers might prescribe DMARDs to treat RA. These medications slow RA progression and prevent joints from becoming misshapen. Biologics, corticosteroids, and NSAIDs are other RA treatment options.

Hashimoto's Thyroiditis

Your thyroid—a small gland in your neck—greatly impacts your body. It produces thyroid hormone (TH), responsible for keeping your metabolism, heartbeat, temperature, mood, and more in check.

Hashimoto's thyroiditis is the most common cause of hypothyroidism, or an underactive thyroid, as the body destroys cells in the thyroid gland. An underactive thyroid doesn't produce enough TH. Symptoms may include fatigue, weight gain, constipation, or a slow heart rate—though people with Hashimoto's thyroiditis may not have any symptoms initially.

If you have celiac disease, lupus, RA, Sjogren's syndrome, or type 1 diabetes, you are at an increased risk of developing Hashimoto's thyroiditis. You're also more likely to have the condition if it runs in your family.

Hashimoto's thyroiditis treatment may entail regular check-ups for symptoms or thyroid levels, or you may have to take levothyroxine, a prescription medication. Treatment will depend on how damaged the thyroid is.

Graves' Disease

This autoimmune condition also attacks the thyroid. However, instead of destroying thyroid cells, it leads to the overproduction of thyroid hormone. Graves' disease is the most common cause of overactive thyroid, a condition called hyperthyroidism. Too much thyroid hormone can cause:

  • An enlarged thyroid
  • A rapid heartbeat
  • Nervousness or irritability
  • Frequent bowel movements
  • Weight loss
  • Sleep problems

Many people with Graves' disease develop problems like swelling or bulging eyes. Less commonly, it can cause reddening and thickening of the skin on the lower legs and tops of the feet.

Genes, hormones, and environmental factors, including stress, pregnancy, and infection, may play a role in Graves' disease.

Typically, patients are given antithyroid medicines to control, but not cure, their hyperthyroidism. In other cases, you may decide to do treatment that destroys thyroid cells with surgery or with radioactive iodine, which is taken in a pill and absorbed by the thyroid. You'll likely need to take thyroid hormone to replace what your body no longer makes if you undergo one of these options.

Type 1 Diabetes

In people with type 1 diabetes, the body's immune system mistakenly attacks insulin-producing cells in the pancreas.

Insulin is a hormone that helps blood sugar get to the body's cells for energy. Without it, the body's cells starve, and blood sugar levels spike, causing damage to the heart, eyes, kidneys, and nerves. Without treatment, type 1 diabetes can lead to coma or death.

Many people have this autoimmune form of diabetes, usually diagnosed in children but can be diagnosed in individuals of any age. Symptoms include:

  • Blurry vision
  • Extreme thirst
  • Fatigue
  • Frequent urination
  • Hunger
  • Numbness or tingling in the hands or feet
  • Slow-to-heal sores
  • Weight loss

Why the body turns on itself in this way remains unclear. Most people inherit risk factors, but environment is also important. Type 1 diabetes occurs more often in cold climates, and viruses and early diet may also play a role.

The goal of treatment is to maintain normal blood sugar levels through diet, exercise, blood sugar monitoring, and medication–specifically, taking insulin.

Celiac Disease

When people with this autoimmune condition consume gluten, a protein found in wheat, rye, and barley, their immune system attacks the small intestine. The resulting damage prevents the body from properly absorbing food nutrients–which can pose long-term health risks.

Celiac disease tends to run in families. If you have a parent, child, or sibling with this disorder, you have a 4% to 15% chance of having celiac disease.

Celiac causes many digestive symptoms in children, such as bloating, vomiting, chronic diarrhea, or constipation. GI symptoms are less common in adults, while other symptoms–such as fatigue, anemia, missed menstrual periods, or osteoporosis–might signal an underlying problem.

Standard celiac disease treatment is sticking to a gluten-free diet.


Vasculitis is an umbrella term for disorders in which the immune system attacks and inflames the body's blood vessels. The damage can impede blood flow throughout the body, depending on the vessels and organs affected.

There are several vasculitis types. Most forms of vasculitis are rare, and the causes are unknown. It can occur by itself or with other diseases, such as lupus or rheumatoid arthritis.

Symptoms will vary depending on the type of vasculitis. However, general symptoms of this condition may include:

  • Aches and pains
  • Fatigue
  • Fever
  • Focal numbness or weakness
  • Loss of appetite
  • Skin rashes
  • Weight loss

Steroids, such as prednisone, can help reduce inflammation, while immune-suppressing drugs may be prescribed to decrease the body's immune response. Another option is rituximab, an immunosuppressant used to treat some autoimmune diseases—including certain types of vasculitis.

A Quick Review

When your immune system works against your body, you can develop common autoimmune diseases like celiac disease, type 1 diabetes, and Hashimoto's thyroiditis.

Many of these conditions are not curable but do have treatment options. The various treatments for autoimmune diseases mainly focus on reducing flare-ups or offering relief from symptoms.

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Health.com uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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