More than 80 diseases occur as a result of the immune system attacking the body’s own organs, tissues, and cells. Some of the more common autoimmune diseases include type 1 diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, systemic lupus erythematosus, and inflammatory bowel disease.
Although the causes of many autoimmune diseases remain unknown, a person’s genes in combination with infections and other environmental exposures are likely to play a significant role in disease development. Treatments are available for many autoimmune diseases, but cures have yet to be discovered.
Autoimmune lymphoproliferative syndrome (ALPS) is a rare genetic disorder of the immune system first described by NIH scientists in the mid-1990s that affects both children and adults. In ALPS, unusually high numbers of a type of white blood cell called a lymphocyte accumulate in the lymph nodes, liver, and spleen, which can lead to enlargement of these organs. ALPS can cause numerous autoimmune problems, such as anemia (low level of red blood cells), thrombocytopenia (low level of platelets), and neutropenia (low level of neutrophils, the most common type of white blood cell in humans).
People with autosomal dominant hyper-immunoglobulin E syndrome (HIES) have recurrent bacterial infections of the skin and lungs. Patients with HIES typically also have eczema, distinct facial features, and a tendency to experience bone fractures. The disease has several other names, including Job’s syndrome, STAT3 deficiency, and Buckley syndrome.
Primary immune deficiency diseases (PIDDs) are rare, genetic disorders that impair the immune system. Without a functional immune response, people with PIDDs may be subject to chronic, debilitating infections, such as Epstein-Barr virus (EBV), which can increase the risk of developing cancer. Some PIDDs can be fatal. PIDDs may be diagnosed in infancy, childhood, or adulthood, depending on disease severity.