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Autoimmune diseases are some of the most serious immune system disorders. Normally your body target germs and produces antibodies to fight off those germs. That's as it should be. But, in autoimmune disorders, your body targets, attacks, and destroys your own body cells, sometimes with disastrous results.
One of the most well-known of these diseases is Multiple Sclerosis (MS). To understand how MS works you have to first examine the nervous system. Each axon of a nerve is coated with a myelin sheath that insulates the nerve and acts as a conductor to send electrical impulses, sort of like the plastic coating that surrounds electrical wiring. When MS strikes, however, the myelin sheathing breaks down and the nerve impulses can no longer travel along the length of the nerve effectively. MS sufferers experience loss of muscle control and strength, paralysis, loss of vision, slurred speech, numbness and/or loss of sensation, loss of bladder control, loss of memory, seizures, shortness of breath, and inability to swallow. Patients may eventually become wheel-chair bound or completely bedridden. Although it can be treated with several different drugs to minimize the symptoms and make life more bearable, there is no known cure for it. It is chronic, meaning it can come and go.
Another well-known autoimmune disease is Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA). RA is a disease where a person's own immune system attacks the membranes lining their joints (called synovium), as well as surrounding tendons and ligaments. It can be very painful and occur anywhere in the body. The joints fill with fluid, swell, and distort, eventually leading to loss of motion and crippling disability. RA can also affect vital organs and do damage. Other symptoms include chronic fatigue, fever, and loss of appetite. No one knows what causes the disease and there is no known cure. Early detection is crucial and several drugs are available to prevent further damage and help with the pain and swelling.
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