Autoimmune Diseases – An Overview
Physician's Weekly
April 28, 2023

Autoimmune Diseases – An Overview

There are over 80 autoimmune diseases that affect up to 10% of people. In all autoimmune conditions, the person’s immune system gets it terribly wrong and mistakenly attacks their cells, tissues, and organs. Although any organ system can be involved, some of the more common areas of the body that are affected are the joints, kidneys, liver, blood vessels, lungs, pancreas, skin, eyes, gastrointestinal tract, and nervous system. In recent years the number of persons with autoimmune conditions has increased. Women are 78% more prone to autoimmune diseases when compared to men. Autoimmune conditions run the gamut from mild to life-threatening.

More Common Autoimmune Diseases

  • Systemic Lupus Erythematosus/ Lupus/ SLE
  • Rheumatoid Arthritis
  • Ulcerative Colitis
  • Chron’s Disease
  • Type 1 Diabetes
  • Psoriasis
  • Psoriatic arthritis
  • Graves’ Disease
  • Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis
  • Multiple Sclerosis
  • Sjogren’s Syndrome
  • Autoimmune Vasculitis
  • Addison’s Disease
  • Pernicious Anaemia
  • Myasthenia Gravis
  • Celiac Disease
  • Vitiligo
  • Hemolytic Anaemia
  • Alopecia

Factors Predisposing to the Development of Autoimmune Diseases

  • Females between the ages of 15-45
  • Overweight
  • Smoking/ Second-Hand Smoke
  • Infections – Infectious mononucleosis (EBV), Group A Streptococcus, SARS-CoV-2, E. coli, Hep C
  • Medicines – certain antibiotics (tetracycline, sulfonamides), blood pressure (Hydralazine, Methyldopa), cholesterol (statins), other (sulfadiazine, chlorpromazine).
  • Another autoimmune disease
  • Family history
  • Race for some autoimmune diseases
  • Excess sun exposure
  • Excessive salt intake
  • Exposure to silica, asbestos, pesticides, and organic solvents
  • Chronic lung inflammation
  • Childhood trauma
  • Gum disease
  • Garlic – Experts at John Hopkins University, USA have implicated the active components in garlic – allicin, ajoene, and thiosulfinates. For these further stimulate an already overactive immune system in autoimmune patients, especially those with Lupus.

Common Symptoms of Autoimmune Disease (these often come and go)

While the specific symptoms of any autoimmune disease depend on the organ system involved, there is a spectrum of nonspecific symptoms associated with a range of autoimmune diseases. These include:

  • Fatigue
  • Joint pain and swelling
  • Muscle aches
  • General malaise
  • Weight loss/ gain
  • Blood/ mucus in stool
  • Migraines
  • Poor concentration
  • Skin rashes
  • Hair loss
  • Abdominal pain
  • Digestive issues
  • Swelling of lymph glands
  • Fever and night sweats
  • Dry eyes/ mouth
  • Numbness and tingling in the hands and feet
  • Itching of skin

Tests That May be Done to Help With Diagnosis

Pinning down the diagnosis of an autoimmune disease is one of the well-known and age-old challenges in medicine. It is not unusual for the patient to have had their symptoms for a number of years while visiting quite a few doctors along the way before the diagnosis is eventually confirmed. There is no single test that can diagnose a specific autoimmune disease, however, the following tests have been found to be helpful in arriving at the diagnosis:

  • Autoimmune Screen (ANA Panel)
  • Autoantibody Screen
  • Erythrocyte Sedimentation Rate (ESR)
  • C-Reactive Protein (CRP)
  • Complete Blood Count (CBC)
  • Kidney Function
  • Liver Function
  • Urinalysis


Autoimmune diseases are generally lifelong conditions. The primary aim of treatment is to suppress the inflammatory response, thereby reducing the pain and suffering of the patient and minimizing the chances of autoimmune-related debilitation and death. Suppression of the overexuberant inflammatory process must be delicately balanced against the over-suppression of the immune system. For the latter can predispose the patient to deadly infections and a range of cancers.

 Autoimmune Diet

The taking of (or the removal of) any single food is not going to result in the dramatic improvement or resolution of one’s autoimmune symptoms. However, there is an increasing body of evidence that strongly suggests that anti-inflammatory foods can play an integral role in reducing the frequency and severity of autoimmune flares. Examples of such foods include:

  • Tomatoes
  • Nuts
  • Legumes
  • Avocados
  • Cabbage
  • Broccoli
  • Carrots
  • Peppers – Bell, chili
  • Green leafy vegetables
  • Fruits – oranges, grapefruit, pomegranates, cherries
  • Seaweed
  • Ground provisions – yam, tania, dasheen, eddoes, sweet potatoes, cassava
  • Fatty fish – Tuna, mackerel, sardines
  • Green tea
  • Dark chocolate
  • Tumeric
  • Ginger
  • Olive oil


  • Pain medications
  • Corticosteroids
  • Immunosuppressants
  • Costimulatory blockade
  • Regulatory T-cel augmentation
  • Antigen induced tolerance
  • Manipulating the gut microbiota
  • Manipulating the interleukin-2 pathway

 Doctors Who Manage Autoimmune Diseases

You should see a doctor if you have symptoms suggestive of an autoimmune disease. You can start with your primary care provider who may then refer you to a specialist based on his/ her findings and your likely diagnosis. The specialists that the patient may be referred to include:

  • Rheumatologist
  • Gastroenterologist
  • Endocrinologist
  • Dermatologist
  • Nephrologist
  • Neurologist

Author: Dr. C. Malcolm Grant – Family Physician, c/o Family Care Clinic, Arnos Vale. For appointments:, 1(784)570-9300, (Office), 1(784)455-0376 (WhatsApp)

Disclaimer: The information provided in the above article is for educational purposes only and does not substitute for professional medical advice. Please consult a medical professional or healthcare provider if you are seeking medical advice, diagnoses, or treatment. Dr. C. Malcolm Grant, Family Care Clinic or The Searchlight Newspaper, or their associates, respectively, are not liable for risks or issues associated with using or acting upon the information provided.