The human body is much like a machine that is made of multiple separate systems that work as parts of a singular unit. One of the most important parts of the body is the immune system, which is actually a network of organs, tissues, and cells, that act as the first line of defence against harmful elements such as infection and other foreign (often minute) bodies that threaten to invade the internal system.
Just as nature designed all other systems in the body, the immune system is biologically programmed to maintain equilibrium and correct any imbalance that may prove to be detrimental to a person’s health and well being.
Below are facts about the immune system that everyone should know about, not only to become more familiar about their body but also to learn how to take better care of their health.
The immune system defined
This system is a vast network that encompasses biological processes and structures that are solely designed for the purpose of protecting the human body from foreign invaders of various forms.
Immune system organs and sub-systems
Unlike all other systems of the body, the immune system covers all parts of the human anatomy, from the skull down to the lower extremities. Below are the sub-systems that comprise the entire immune system as well as they corresponding functions.
The bone marrow
This soft tissue can be found in every hollow center of bones in the body, and is responsible for generating all blood cells including Lymphocytes, which are highly necessary for releasing antibodies.
There are basically two types of lymphocytes- the T Cell Lymphocytes, which grow and mature in the thymus and the B Lymphocytes or B Cells which grow to become plasma cells (responsible for generating and releasing antibodies). Plasma cells occur mostly in the Medulla.
These tissues are located in several parts of the body, i.e. neck, armpits, abdomen, and groin. Swollen lymph nodes are often a sign of infection and/or cancer; hence the cursory inspection of physicians of the above-mentioned body parts during a physical examination. Find our more about lymphatic system functions here.
While most people are not aware of what the spleen actually does, it turns out it has a very important purpose when it comes to fighting off infection. This organ houses specialized compartments where immune cells can generate and mature. These immune cells are not usually activated, unless in the case of severe infection where the body needs all the help it can get in order to keep invading microorganisms away from the major organs.
List of autoimmune diseases
(Signs, Symptoms, and Treatment Option)
The human immune system is much like a double-edged sword. While it is designed to protect the body from anything foreign and harmful, there are certain instances where it attacks healthy organs and cells. These conditions are referred to as autoimmune diseases, some of which are listed below.
Multiple Sclerosis (MS)
This disorder affects more women than men, and occurs mainly in the group age of 20-40 years old. MS is caused mainly by the damage to the myelin sheath (protective covering that surrounds nerve cells). It is characterized by the following symptoms:
- Loss of balance (sudden or gradual)
- Muscle spasms (often painful and with no possible physiological cause)
- Difficulty moving legs or arms (or both)
- Problems with coordination or fine motor movements (i.e. swallowing, writing, etc)
- Uncontrollable tremors of hands and legs
- Constipation and stool leakage
- Frequent urination
- Temporary or permanent loss of vision/ blurry vision
- Sudden onset of depression
- Hearing loss
- Slurred speech
A battery of neurological tests are usually administered in order to confirm an MS diagnosis as well as determine its severity. Immunologists usually make it a point to ascertain as to which parts of the body have been affected and which ones remain in good condition. Multiple Sclerosis is progressive and once it starts, it is very difficult to stop.
There is no known cure for MS as of yet, but there are a number of methods used to manage this disease and slow down its progress. Some of the medications used to treat and/or manage the symptoms include the following:
- Cholinergic medications to manage urinary problems
- Antidepressants (Zoloft, Prozac, etc)
- Benzodiazepine (to control tremors)
Physicians also usually recommend physical therapy as a preventative method for those who are diagnosed with early onset MS. It is important to exercise the muscles so that they do not atrophy.
This condition is characterized by severe baldness due to damaged hair follicles. While it does not threaten a person’s health in the slightest, Alopecia can very well affect a person’s confidence since it affects how he/she looks. There are no known cures for alopecia at this time but there are ways to address the issue of baldness, i.e. wearing wigs (for women) or toupee (for men).
This is a condition in which the body attacks its own liver cells, which can lead to a number of various complications. Some of the most common symptoms include the following:
- Chronic fatigue
- Enlarged liver
- Itchy skin (barring allergies)
- Joint pain
- Chronic stomach ache
The most reliable treatment for autoimmune hepatitis is liver transplant, although the recuperation period is lengthy and difficult since the immune system usually attacks donated organs. Anti-rejection medications are prescribed for patients who underwent organ transplantation.
This autoimmune disease is mostly referred to as Gluten allergy. It is a condition in whereby the body can’t tolerate gluten, which is found in food products such as rye, wheat, barley, and rye. In case of accidental ingestion of gluten, the immune system responds by inflicting damage on the thin linings of the small intestines. Such damage often leads to the following symptoms:
- Chronic abdominal pain (without determinable cause)
- Loose bowel movement and/or constipation (can occur within the same day)
- Sudden weight loss and/or weight gain
- Severe fatigue (even without physical exertion)
- Irregular menstrual periods
- Rashes all over the skin
- Infertility, miscarriage, blighted ova, deformed infants
While there is no existing cure for Celiac disease as of today, there are ways to effectively manage this disease, one of which is by adapting a gluten free diet.
Systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE)
Perhaps one of the most debilitating autoimmune disease, SLE attacks and damages several parts of the body including the lungs, kidneys, heart, skin, and joints. Multiple organ failure is often a complication that arises from this ailment and there are no known cures for it at this time. Some of the common symptoms to watch out for include the following:
- Fever (on and off for several days or weeks)
- Weight loss
- Hair loss
- Painful mouth sores
- Chronic fatigue
- Butterfly rashes on the cheeks and/or nose
- Painful joints and muscles
- Sensitivity to the sun and any source of heat
- Lapses in memory, dizziness, vomiting, changes in personality and social behaviour
This disease affected the famous Michael Jackson for most of his adult life. It is characterized by the absence of melanin in the skin, which gives it an unusually fair color. The late King of Pop was of African-American descent but he had an unusually white skin due to this disease. Some of the most common symptoms include white patches on the skin, early onset of gray hair, and loss of color inside the mouth.
Autoimmune diseases are mostly hereditary so it is necessary for people to become aware of their family’s medical background in order to determine whether they are carrying the gene for one or more of these ailments. Preventive measures must be taken in order to prevent the sudden progression of the disease especially since there is no way to reverse the damage to the body once the symptoms begin to manifest.
How to strengthen the immune system
There are a number of specific ways to strengthen the immune system, but the most important thing is to maintain a healthy lifestyle and eat nutritious foods. Supplementation as well as vaccination can also help especially in the case of young children. Read more about how to boost your immune system.
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