Your body’s immune system protects you from disease and infection. But if you have an autoimmune disease, your immune system attacks healthy cells in your body by mistake. Autoimmune diseases are a category of disorders that can affect just about every organ system in the body — from hair to toenails — and are often chronic diseases that can go on for a lifetime.
The NIH’s Office of Research on Women’s Health monthly podcast, “Pinn Point on Women’s Health,” provides updates on women’s health research, and is hosted by Vivian W. Pinn, M.D., director of NIH’s Office of Research on Women’s Health. This month, Dr. Pinn interviewed Dr. Robert Carter, deputy director of the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases, and an expert in the field of autoimmune diseases.
“Although they don’t get the publicity of cancer or sudden heart attack, the burden of these diseases is enormous because they affect a lot of people and go on for a lifetime,” said Dr. Carter. “And there is something about being female that leads you to a higher risk for many autoimmune diseases.”
An autoimmune disease can be isolated (affecting only the thyroid, for example) or systemic, such as rheumatoid arthritis, lupus and scleroderma. The diseases may also have flare-ups — when they get worse — and remissions, when they seem to disappear. The diseases do not usually go away, but symptoms can be treated. They also tend to run in families, and African-American, Hispanic-American, and Native American women have a higher risk for some autoimmune diseases.
Read More: http://www.nih.gov/news/health/sep2009/od-03.htm.