Uncommon Autoimmune Diseases Everyone Should Be Aware Of

February 9, 2023

Diabetes, lupus, and multiple sclerosis are just a few of the common autoimmune diseases a majority of the population are aware of and even support. But what about the autoimmune diseases that are uncommon or not as well-known? You might have heard about these illnesses before from the media or in books, however, are you truly aware of the causes and how to properly treat these conditions? Learn more now about HIV/AIDS, endometriosis, vitiligo, and many more autoimmune diseases affecting millions of individuals around the world, but are receiving less attention in the press or have a negative reputation, and therefore, are not as discussed.

What Is An Autoimmune Disease?

Immune system disorders can happen to anyone at any age and of any ethnicity. These disorders occur due to abnormally low activity or overactivity of the immune system, where the body attacks and damages its own tissues and creates antibodies to destroy these tissues and organs. This results in the decrease in the body's ability to fight foreign invaders - such as the common cold or flu - causing the individual to become more prone to infections and the development of other diseases.

Many of these disorders do not have a cure, however, with treatment can be managed and allow an individual to live a normal and fulfilling life. A number of these diseases can be fatal if left untreated. Fortunately, with early diagnosis and an effective treatment plan, many individuals survive and even thrive with the disease.


Since its inception into mainstream society in the 1980s, HIV/AIDS has received global attention due to its classification as a pandemic. This is a disease outbreak present in a large area and actively spreads infecting multiple people. From its discovery through to 2014, HIV/AIDS has resulted in thirty-nine million deaths worldwide. Since 2016, approximately 36.7 million individuals are living with this disease, with over one million deaths so far and the majority of the infected population residing in sub-Saharan Africa.

This well-known infection is spread primarily through unprotected sex, contaminated blood transfusions, hypodermic needles, and from an infected mother to her child during pregnancy, delivery, or breastfeeding. HIV/AIDS is a spectrum of numerous autoimmune conditions caused by infection with the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). Following the initial infection, a patient may not experience any symptoms or may undergo a brief period of influenza-like illness.

How To Prevent & Treat HIV/AIDS

As the infection progresses, it begins to interfere with the immune system which results in an increased risk for common infections such as tuberculosis and tumors; this can be fatal for those infected when compared to an individual with a healthy immune system. Symptoms that appear in the later stages of the infection are known as acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS), where patients also experience extreme weight loss. Ways to prevent contracting this fatal disease include practicing safe sex, needle exchange programs, and male circumcision.

The disease can be managed with antiretroviral medication, especially when diagnosed early. To be clear, there is no cure or vaccine for this disease. However, antiretroviral treatment can slow the disease's progression and allow an individual to have a somewhat average life expectancy. The best way to diagnose HIV/AIDS is a simple blood test. Without a proper diagnosis or treatment, the average survival rate after contracting this condition is eleven years.

Signs & Symptoms Of Vitiligo

Probably well known due to the King of Pop, Michael Jackson, having vitiligo universalis (meaning all over the body), this autoimmune disorder is a non-contagious, long-term skin condition whose symptoms include visible signs of patches of skin losing pigmentation. These patches become white, have sharp margins, and can affect both sides of the body. They can just be in specific areas or cover the entire body. No specific cause is known. However, research has indicated it could be the result of the immune system attacking and destroying the skin's melanocytes - which are the cells that give skin its color - as well as genetic susceptibility triggered by environmental factors, such as sun exposure.

Risk Factors & Treatment For Vitiligo

Common factors for developing vitiligo include a family history of the disorder and other autoimmune diseases such as alopecia areata, hyperthyroidism, and pernicious anemia. Diagnosis can be confirmed with a tissue biopsy, but also by holding an ultraviolet light over the affected area which will appear lighter than the patient's skin color. There is no cure for vitiligo, although it can be treated and managed with sunscreen and makeup for lighter-skinned individuals, as well as steroid creams or phototherapy to darken lighter patches, hydroquinone to lighten unaffected areas, as well as surgery if other methods do not work.

However, a combination of treatments generally provides a patient with a better outcome and counseling for emotional support is also recommended for some. Globally, males and females are equally affected by vitiligo, making up approximately one percent of individuals with a majority of patients developing the condition before age forty.

What Is Autoimmune Hepatitis?

Lupoid hepatitis - now commonly known as autoimmune hepatitis (AIH) - is a chronic autoimmune disease that targets the liver and occurs when the body's immune system attacks liver cells, resulting in liver inflammation. Common symptoms include fatigue, muscle aches, or signs of acute liver inflammation including fever, jaundice, and upper right abdominal pain. Patients usually show no initial symptoms of the condition, and abnormal liver function tests usually detect it. Inflammation of the liver can lead to further symptoms and result in complications such as fatigue, cirrhosis of the liver, and liver failure.

Who Does Autoimmune Hepatitis Target?

AIH can affect any person at any age, although it is more often seen in individuals between the ages of forty and fifty. There is no real cause for AIH. However, sixty percent of patients with chronic hepatitis may mimic viral hepatitis without serologic evidence of the viral infection. Diagnosing AIH is best achieved with a combination of laboratory, clinical, and histological testing and excluding any other diseases it may be mimicking. Treatment includes the consumption of immunosuppressive glucocorticoids, such as prednisone, azathioprine, as well as budesonide. When immunosuppressants do not work, a liver transplant may be required.

Addison's Disease & The Adrenal Glands

Addison's disease - also called primary adrenal insufficiency and hypocortisolism - is a long-term endocrine disorder affecting the adrenal glands so they do not produce enough steroid hormones (specifically cortisol and aldosterone) which are necessary for proper function. The glands will not produce enough hormones due to damage caused by the immune system, tuberculosis, certain medications, sepsis, and bleeding into the glands.

Symptoms of this condition include abdominal pain, weakness, weight loss, and darkening of the skin in specific areas. In some instances when an adrenal crisis occurs, patients can experience low blood pressure, vomiting, lower back pain, and loss of consciousness. An adrenal crisis occurs when an individual is experiencing stress, such as from an injury, surgery, or infection.

Diagnosing & Treating Addison's Disease

Addison's disease is usually diagnosed through blood tests, urine tests, and medical imaging. Treatment involves replacing the absent hormones, such as orally consuming a corticosteroid like hydrocortisone and fludrocortisone, with lifelong continuous steroid replacement therapy a requirement. A high-salt diet may also be helpful to those afflicted, and in many cases, large doses of intravenous fluids (IV) with sugar dextrose is required. Without any treatment, a patient who suffers from an adrenal crisis can die. Although most individuals probably have heard of the condition, it only affects 0.9 to 1.4 per ten thousand people in the developed world, and mostly affects middle-aged females.

Autoimmune Thyroiditis: Symptoms & Causes

Autoimmune thyroiditis is a chronic disease where the body interprets the thyroid glands and its hormones, T3, T4, and TSH, as threats, resulting in the immune system producing special antibodies that specifically target the thyroid's cells and destroying it. This condition can be present with hypothyroidism or hyperthyroidism and with or without a goiter, which affects the symptoms and treatment options for this disease. Symptoms vary based on the thyroid function, as hyperthyroidism can result in sweating, a rapid heart rate, anxiety, tremors, fatigue, sudden weight loss, sleep problems, and protruding eyes.

Hypothyroidism symptoms include weight gain, fatigue, dry skin, hair loss, intolerance to cold, and constipation. Symptoms tend to come and go as it depends on whether the patient is receiving treatment and how effective it is. Causes of autoimmune thyroiditis include genetics, as it is an inherited dominant trait; a high iodine consumption, which is prevalent in countries such as the U.S. and Japan; or age, as thirty-three percent of women over seventy, and the average ages for both genders for developing it is fifty-eight and fifty-nine years old.

Diagnosing & Treating Autoimmune Thyroiditis

Diagnosis occurs through various tests, which are chosen based on the observed symptoms the patient is exhibiting. Doctors can search for thyroid peroxidase antibodies (TPOAb) when a patient shows signs of hypothyroidism, which is related to Hashimoto's thyroiditis and Graves' disease. If an individual shows signs of hyperthyroidism, doctors will likely test for thyroid stimulating hormone receptor antibodies (TRAb) and monitor the effects of antithyroid therapy. Similar to symptoms, treatments vary and depend on the results of the thyroid function tests. Patients with hypothyroidism might be able to take levothyroxine, depending on their hormone levels, and thyroxine can be used as a treatment, however, its use is controversial depending, again, on the hormone levels.

The Female Autoimmune Disease: Endometriosis

A somewhat uncommon condition affecting 10.8 million individuals globally, endometriosis affects a woman's reproductive organs. Specifically, in this disease the layer of tissue covering the inside of the uterus grows outside of it, subsequently affecting the ovaries, fallopian tubes, and surrounding tissue. The predominant symptoms patients may experience are pelvic pain, especially during menstruation; infertility, which affects about fifty percent of women; and pain during intercourse.

Uncommon symptoms include urinary or bowel symptoms, and about twenty-five percent of women do not exhibit any symptoms. The causes of this illness are not clear, however, risk factors for endometriosis include having a family history of the disorder, and the areas of the growths bleed monthly, resulting in inflammation and scarring.

Prevention & Treatment Options For Endometriosis

Diagnosis of endometriosis is a combination of medical imaging and the experienced symptoms, with biopsy being the best way to receive an accurate diagnosis. Prevention is key, as limited research suggests the use of combined oral contraceptives reduce the risk of developing it, as well as the patient engaging in regular exercise and avoiding the consumption of copious amounts of alcohol. Unfortunately, there is no cure, although there are a variety of treatment options that can improve symptoms, including pain medication, such as naproxen, hormonal treatments, and even surgery to remove the growths. Additionally, the female may receive gonadotropin-releasing hormone agonist to improve the chances of conceiving. Endometriosis is most common for women in their thirties and forties, and it results in very few deaths, as it is a highly manageable disease.

For more information about autoimmune conditions, especially common ones, check out Autoimmune Diseases-A Serious Health Concern For All 20-Somethings.

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