Autoimmune Disease; September 1993; Scientific American Magazine; by Lawrence Steinman; 9 Page(s)
Normally, the immune system is able to distinguish friend from foe, ignoring the body's own components and attacking foreign invaders. Unfortunately, the immunologic weapons can, like friendly fire, sometimes turn against the self, causing severe illness and even death.
Autoimmune diseases may involve any organ system, although some are affected more commonly than others: the white matter of the brain and spinal cord, in multiple sclerosis; the lining of joints, in rheumatoid arthritis; the insulin- secreting cells, in juvenile diabetes mellitus. Other forms of autoimmune disease ravage the connections between nerve and muscle in myasthenia gravis, stimulate the thyroid gland to produce excessive amounts of thyroid hormone in Graves' disease, blister the skin in pemphigus vulgaris or destroy the kidneys and other organs in a condition called systemic lupus erythematosus.