Types of Autoimmune Diseases

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There are more than 100 different autoimmune disorders. They occur when a person's immune system, which normally destroys infectious organisms, attacks its own body's cells, tissues, and organs. Autoimmune disorders vary and can impact organs and systems throughout the body—including the blood, the digestive system, the endocrine system, the joints, the nervous system, and the skin. 

Each autoimmune condition is characterized by a collection of signs and symptoms caused by the body's targeted attack on specific types of tissues.

Test tubes featuring labels listing Lupus.

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Blood-Related Autoimmune Disorders

In autoimmune disorders related to the blood, the immune system can attack the blood or the blood vessels.

Autoimmune Vasculitis

Vasculitis is a condition in which the blood vessels, including the arteries, veins, and capillaries, become inflamed. This can be problematic, as it may cause narrowing and full or partial obstruction of blood vessels.

Vasculitis has many causes, including autoimmune disorders. Most forms of autoimmune vasculitis are rare. In severe cases, autoimmune vasculitis can lead to organ damage or death.

Hemolytic Anemia

Hemolytic anemia occurs when red blood cells (RBCs) are destroyed faster than the body can replenish them. RBCs carry oxygen throughout the body, and when the number of RBCs is low, this affects oxygen delivery to the tissues and organs throughout the body. It can cause effects that range from fatigue, to fainting, to organ damage, or even death.

Some types of hemolytic anemia, such as immune thrombocytopenia, are autoimmune.

Pernicious Anemia

Pernicious anemia is characterized by low RBC production. In pernicious anemia, the stomach can't absorb adequate amounts of vitamin B12, an important component of RBC production. This happens because an autoimmune process destroys the cells that make intrinsic factor (IF), a protein that normally facilitates vitamin B12 absorption in the stomach.

The condition leads to chronic anemia and requires treatment with an injected form of vitamin B12 that doesn't rely on stomach absorption.

Digestive Autoimmune Disorders

There are many autoimmune disorders that involve the digestive system. In these diseases, the immune system mistakenly attacks parts of the gastrointestinal tract.

Celiac

It is estimated one in 100 people have celiac disease. If you have this disease, your immune system will launch an immune response that attacks the small intestine if you consume gluten. This leads to damage of the villi that line the small intestine. The villi are needed for nutrient absorption, and if they are damaged, nutrients aren’t properly absorbed, and symptoms—such as abdominal discomfort, constipation ad/or diarrhea—can develop.

Inflammatory Bowel Disease

Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) causes chronic inflammation in the gastrointestinal tract leading to damage. Chrohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis are both examples of autoimmune IBD. The inflammation leads to abdominal pain, recurrent diarrhea, fatigue, and rectal bleeding.

Endocrine Autoimmune Disorders

Endocrine autoimmune disorders include a large group of diseases that are characterized by an immune system attack on specific cells in one or more of the organs that produce hormones.

Addison’s Disease

Addison’s disease is a rare disease characterized by the autoimmune destruction of certain cells of the adrenal glands. The adrenal glands make cortisol, which is the stress hormone that plays a role in maintaining blood sugar, blood pressure, immune function, and heart function. These glands also make aldosterone, which helps control the balance of sodium and potassium in the blood. If untreated, this condition can be fatal.

Type 1 Diabetes

In type 1 diabetes, the pancreas doesn’t make enough insulin. This is believed to be due to the autoimmune destruction of the pancreatic islet cells. Without enough insulin, too much glucose remains in the blood.

High blood glucose can, over time, cause problems with the eyes, kidneys, heart, and nerves. Sudden elevations of glucose can occur with type 1 diabetes and can cause serious problems, such as loss of consciousness, coma, seizures, or death.

Graves' Disease

Graves' disease is an autoimmune condition in which the thyroid gland produces an excessive amount of thyroid hormones. It is seven times more common in women than in men. Symptoms can include intolerance to heat, weight loss, heart palpitations, and nervousness. In Graves' ophthalmopathy, the eye muscles may become inflamed, causing the eyes to bulge. 

Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis

In Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, the immune system attacks the thyroid gland. As a result, the gland doesn’t produce enough thyroid hormones, and metabolism in the body slows down. Women are affected at 10 times the rate than men. Symptoms can include weight gain, feeling cold all the time, fatigue, and depression.

Joint Autoimmune Disorders

In some autoimmune disorders, inflammation can cause damage to joints and connective tissues.

Rheumatoid Arthritis

Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) causes swelling, pain, and stiffness in the joints. It is most common in the fingers or wrist and is more common in women. RA is a chronic, lifelong disease.

Nervous System Autoimmune Disorders

In autoimmune diseases of the nervous system, the immune system attacks cells in the brain, spinal cord, or peripheral nerves.

Multiple Sclerosis

Multiple sclerosis (MS) is an autoimmune demyelinating condition that causes damage to the myelin sheath in the brain, spinal cord, and/or optic nerve. This slows down communication between the brain, spine, and the rest of the body. MS can lead to visual disturbances, trouble with coordination, numbness, muscle weakness, and problems with cognition. It is more common in women.

Guillain-Barre Syndrome

Guillain-Barré syndrome is a rare disease in which the immune system attacks the peripheral nervous system (PNS). The PNS consists of nerves in the arms, legs, trunk, and digestive organs that mediate sensation and movement of the body. Symptoms begin with weakness or tingles in the legs, and in severe cases, it can result in being nearly paralyzed. It is a life-threatening condition because it can affect the chest muscles that control breathing. 

Myasthenia Gravis

Myasthenia gravis occurs due to the immune system blocking or changing nerve signals to the muscles. This causes muscle weakness. Symptoms can include weakness of eye and eyelid , and impaired swallowing and facial movements.

Skin Autoimmune Disorders

There are many autoimmune disorders that affect the skin. In these conditions, the immune system launches an attack on tissues that line the body's organs, including the skin, the body's largest organ.

Psoriasis

Psoriasis is an inflammatory autoimmune disease that causes patches of red, scaly skin that can be itchy or sore. The patches can appear on the face, palms, feet, elbows, knees, and scalp, but can also be present on other parts of the body. Symptoms can come and go, or in some cases can remain lifelong.

Vitiligo

Vitiligo is a disease in which the cells that give skin color are destroyed due to an autoimmune process. It causes white patches on the skin and can also impact the nose, mouth, and eyes. It can also cause hair to turn grey prematurely. Vitiligo usually occurs before age 40.

Scleroderma

Scleroderma is an autoimmune process that causes hardening and tightening of the skin and connective tissues.

Other Autoimmune Disorders

Systemic Lupus Erythematosus

Systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) occurs when the immune system attacks tissues throughout the body, causing inflammation and damage to affected organs. It is the most common form of lupus, and it can affect the kidneys, joints, and more.

Sjogren’s Syndrome

Sjogren’s syndrome occurs when the immune system attacks glands that make tears and saliva. This causes dryness in the eyes, mouth, nose, throat, and more. It mainly affects women. It can be linked to other autoimmune conditions, like rheumatoid arthritis.

A Word From Verywell

If you or someone you love is diagnosed with an autoimmune disease, it can feel overwhelming at first. Speak with your healthcare provider about your treatment options, and consider researching support groups so you can connect with other people in the same situation. There are many resources available to you—so be sure to utilize them.

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18 Sources
Verywell Health 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.
  1. Arthritis Foundation. Vasculitis.

  2. Johns Hopkins Medicine. Hemolytic anemia.

  3. MedlinePlus. Pernicious anemia.

  4. Celiac Disease Foundation. What is celiac disease?

  5. Crohn's and Colitis Foundation of America. The facts about inflammatory bowel diseases. Updated November 2014.

  6. American Autoimmune Related Diseases Association. Addison's disease.

  7. American Autoimmune Related Diseases Association. Type 1 diabetes.

  8. American Autoimmune Related Diseases Association. Graves' disease.

  9. American Autoimmune Related Diseases Association. Hashimoto’s thyroiditis.

  10. American Autoimmune Related Diseases Association. Rheumatoid arthritis (RA)

  11. American Autoimmune Related Diseases Association. Multiple sclerosis (MS).

  12. American Autoimmune Related Diseases Association. Guillain-Barré syndrome.

  13. American Autoimmune Related Diseases Association. Myasthenia gravis.

  14. American Autoimmune Related Diseases Association. Psoriasis.

  15. American Autoimmune Related Diseases Association. Vitiligo.

  16. American Autoimmune Related Diseases Association. Scleroderma.

  17. Centers For Disease Control and Prevention. Systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE). Updated October 17, 2018.

  18. American Autoimmune Related Diseases Association. Sjögren’s syndrome.