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The body’s civil war: Understanding autoimmune conditions

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T-lymphocyte cells attacking a cancer cell T-lymphocyte cells attacking a cancer cell. But the white blood cells that protect the body can also damage it

Our immune system does a remarkable job of keeping most of us mostly healthy for most of the time. After all, we live surrounded by parasites: bacteria, viruses, fungi, pathogens and archaea. Usually, the immune system mounts devastating attacks on pathogens and malignancies, while limiting collateral damage to healthy tissues (self-tolerance). Sometimes, however, the immune system provokes an damaging reaction against triggers (antigens) expressed by healthy, normal tissue, such as the skin, pancreas or joints.1

This immunological civil war underlies about 80-100 autoimmune diseases.2, 3 Some are part of nurses’ everyday caseload, including psoriasis; multiple sclerosis (MS); inflammatory bowel disease (IBD); rheumatoid arthritis (RA); and type 1 diabetes. You may only occasionally, if ever, encounter others, such as epidermolysis bullosa acquisita,4 Vogt-Koyanagi-Harada disease5 and Parry Romberg syndrome.3 Autoimmune mechanisms also contribute other conditions, such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD),6 Cardiovascular disease7 and certain cancers.8,9 This feature outlines the processes that underlie autoimmune diseases to help nurses appreciate the importance of rapid diagnosis, referral and treatment.

Tolerating yourself

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While it is easy to find a doctor or specialist for regular medical conditions, it is quite difficult to find one to treat a serious medical condition such as leukemia. Through finding the right specialist for treating a condition such as acute myelogenous leukemia, the patient could receive the best and right treatment available for the condition. This in turn will increase his or her chances of healing.
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