Types of Autoimmune Diseases

There are more than 100 different autoimmune disorders. These occur when instead of attacking viruses or bacteria, the immune system launches attacks on the cells and organs in the body. Autoimmune disorders can impact a variety of organs and systems throughout the body including the blood, the digestive system, the endocrine system, the joints, the nervous system and the skin. 

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 and blood vessels.

Autoimmune Vasculitis

Autoimmune vasculitis causes the blood vessels, including the arteries, veins, and capillaries to become inflamed and narrow. This can be problematic as blood vessels help deliver blood from the heart to the organs throughout the body. Most forms of autoimmune vasculitis are rare. In severe cases, autoimmune vasculitis can lead to organ damage or death.

Hemolytic Anemia

Hemolytic anemia is a blood disorder that causes the destruction of red blood cells faster than they can be made. Red blood cells are needed to carry oxygen throughout the body and without enough red blood cells, not enough oxygen is delivered to the tissues and organs throughout the body.

Pernicious Anemia

Pernicious anemia is characterised by a decrease in red blood cells due to an inability in the intestines to absorb B12. A protein called intrinsic factor (IF) binds together with vitamin B12 to be absorbed in the intestines. If the stomach fails to make enough IF, B12 can’t be properly absorbed, and not enough red blood cells are created.

Digestive Autoimmune Disorders

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

Celiac

It is estimated one in 100 people have celiac disease. In this disease, if gluten is ingested, the immune system launches a response that attacks the small intestine. This leads to damage of the villi that line the small intestine and are needed for nutrient absorption. If the villi are damaged, nutrients aren’t properly absorbed.

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 IBD. If the GI tract is inflamed, gastrointestinal organs can’t function as they should, which can lead to abdominal pain, persistent diarrhea, fatigue, and rectal bleeding.

Endocrine Autoimmune Disorders

Endocrine autoimmune disorders are a large group of diseases that are characterised by the immune system wrongly attacking the cells in organs that produce hormones.

Addison’s Disease

Addison’s disease is a rare disease characterised by the destruction of the adrenal gland. The adrenal glands are needed to produce glucocorticoid hormones that help the body use and store carbohydrates, fats, protein, and blood sugar. If not promptly treated, it can be fatal.

Type 1 Diabetes

In type 1 diabetes, the pancreas doesn’t make enough insulin. 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.

Graves' Disease

Graves' disease causes the thyroid to produce an excessive amount of 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' disease, 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 thyroid doesn’t produce enough hormones, and metabolism in the body slows down. Women are affected at 10 times the rate than men.

Joint Autoimmune Disorders

In some autoimmune disorders, inflammation as a result of an immune response can cause damage to joints and connective tissues.

Rheumatoid Arthritis

Rheumatoid arthritis causes swelling, pain, and stiffness in the joints. It can cause complete lack of function in the joints. It is most common in the fingers or wrist and is more common in women. Some cases of rheumatoid arthritis can last only a short time, whilst severe forms can be lifelong.

Nervous System Autoimmune Disorders

In autoimmune disease of the nervous system, the immune system wrongly attacks cells in the nervous system. The nervous system involves the brain, spinal cord and optic nerves.

Multiple Sclerosis

Multiple sclerosis (MS) causes damage to the myelin sheath, which protects nerve cells. This can slow down or block communication between the brain 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 connects the spinal cord and brain with the rest of the body, and damage to it can prevent signals from being properly communicated. When this happens, muscles have difficulty responding to the brain. Symptoms begin with weakness or tingles and in severe cases can result in being nearly paralyzed. It is a life-threatening condition. 

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 problems with facial expressions, swallowing, and eye and eyelid movement.

Skin Autoimmune Disorders

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

Psoriasis

Psoriasis 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 remain lifelong.

Vitiligo

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

Scleroderma

Scleroderma causes abnormal growths in connective tissue. This can cause swelling in muscles and joints.

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.

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, and other places that need moisture, like the nose and throat. It mainly affects women. It can be linked to other problems 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 openly with your health care provider about your treatment options and research 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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Article 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.