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Autoimmune Disorders

Immune system disorders cause abnormally low activity or over activity of the immune system. In cases of immune system over activity, the body attacks and damages its own tissues (autoimmune diseases). Immune deficiency diseases decrease the body’s ability to fight invaders, causing vulnerability to infections (low immune system).

In response to an unknown trigger, the immune system may begin producing antibodies that instead of fighting infections, attack the body’s own tissues. Treatment for autoimmune diseases generally focuses on reducing immune system activity.

CROHN’S DISEASE

Crohn’s disease is a lifelong inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). Parts of the digestive system get swollen and have deep sores called ulcers. Crohn’s disease usually is found in the last part of the small intestine and the first part of the large intestine. But it can develop anywhere in the digestive tract, from the mouth to the anus.

Doctors don’t know what causes Crohn’s disease. You may get it when the body’s immune system has an abnormal response to normal bacteria in your intestine. Other kinds of bacteria and viruses may also play a role in causing the disease.

Crohn’s disease can run in families. Your chances of getting it are higher if a close family member has it. People of Eastern European (Ashkenazi) Jewish background may have a higher chance of getting Crohn’s disease. Smoking also puts you at a higher risk for the disease.

The main symptoms of Crohn’s disease are belly pain and diarrhea (sometimes with blood). Some people may have diarrhea 10 to 20 times a day. Losing weight without trying is another common sign. Less common symptoms include mouth sores, bowel blockages, anal tears (fissures), and openings (fistulas) between organs.

Infections, hormonal changes, and smoking can cause your symptoms to flare up. You may have only mild symptoms or go for long periods of time without any symptoms. A few people have ongoing, severe symptoms.

ULCERATIVE COLITIS

Ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease are the most common types of inflammatory bowel disease. Ulcerative colitis affects only the colon and rectum. Crohn’s can affect any part of the digestive tract.
This is a disease that causes inflammation and sores (ulcers) in the lining of the large intestine (colon). It usually affects the lower section (sigmoid colon) and the rectum. But it can affect the entire colon. In general, the more of the colon that’s affected, the worse the symptoms will be.
The disease can affect people of any age. But most people who have it are diagnosed before the age of 30.
Experts aren’t sure what causes it. They think it might be caused by the immune system overreacting to normal bacteria in the digestive tract. Or other kinds of bacteria and viruses may cause it.
You are more likely to get ulcerative colitis if other people in your family have it.
The main symptoms are:
• Belly pain or cramps.
• Diarrhea.
• Bleeding from the rectum.
Some people also may have a fever, may not feel hungry, and may lose weight. In severe cases, people may have diarrhea 10 to 20 times a day.
The disease can also cause other problems, such as joint pain, eye problems, or liver disease.
In most people, the symptoms come and go. Some people go for months or years without symptoms (remission). Then they will have a flare-up. About 5 to 10 out of 100 people with ulcerative colitis have symptoms all the time.

LUPUS

Lupus is an autoimmune disease, which means that the immune system mistakes the body’s own tissues as foreign invaders and attacks them. Some people with Lupus suffer only minor inconvenience. Others suffer significant lifelong disability.

Lupus affects people of African, Asian, or Native American descent two to three times as often as it affects whites. Nine out of 10 people with lupus are women. The disease usually strikes between age 15 and 44, although it can occur in older individuals.

There are two kinds of lupus:

  • Discoid lupus erythematosus (DLE)
  • Systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE)

DLE mainly affects skin that is exposed to sunlight and doesn’t typically affect vital internal organs. Discoid (circular) skin lesions often leave scars after healing of the lesions.

SLE is more serious: It affects the skin and other vital organs, and can cause a raised, scaly, butterfly-shaped rash across the bridge of the nose and cheeks that can leave scars if untreated. SLE can also affect other parts of the skin elsewhere on the body.

Aside from the visible effects of systemic lupus, the disease may also inflame and/or damage the connective tissue in the joints, muscles, and skin, along with the membranes surrounding or within the lungs, heart, kidneys, and brain. SLE can also cause kidney disease. Brain involvement is rare, but for some, Lupus can cause confusion, depression, seizures, and strokes.

Blood vessels may come under attack with systemic lupus. This can cause sores to develop on the skin, especially the fingers. Some lupus patients get Raynaud’s syndrome, which makes the small blood vessels in the skin contract, preventing blood from getting to the hands and feet, especially in response to cold. Most attacks last only a few minutes, can be painful, and often turn the hands and feet white or a bluish color. Lupus patients with Raynaud’s syndrome should keep their hands warm with gloves during cold weather.

No single factor is known to cause Lupus. Research suggests that a combination of genetic, hormonal, environmental, and immune system factors may be behind it. Environmental factors, ranging from viral and bacterial infections to severe emotional stress or overexposure to sunlight, may play a role in provoking or triggering the disease. Certain drugs, such as the blood pressure drug hydralazine and the heart rhythm drug procainamide, may cause lupus-like symptoms. High estrogen levels resulting from pregnancy may aggravate Lupus

SJOGREN'S SYNDROME

Sjogren’s syndrome causes your immune system to go haywire and attack healthy cells instead of invading bacteria or viruses.

When you have Sjogren’s syndrome, your eyes, mouth, and other parts of your body get dried out.

Dry eyes and dry mouth are the most common symptoms. You can sometimes get problems in other parts of your body, such as swollen glands around your face and neck, dry skin or nasal passages, or painful and stiff joints.

About half of people with Sjogren’s also have another autoimmune disease, like rheumatoid arthritis or lupus. That can sometimes make it harder for your doctor to give you a diagnosis.

MULTIPLE SCLEROSIS (MS)

Multiple sclerosis, or MS, is a long-lasting disease that can affect your brain, spinal cord, and the optic nerves in your eyes. It can cause problems with vision, balance, muscle control, and other basic body functions.

The effects are often different for everyone who has the disease. Some people have mild symptoms and don’t need treatment. Others will have trouble getting around and doing daily tasks.

MS happens when your immune system attacks a fatty material called myelin, which wraps around your nerve fibers to protect them. Without this outer shell, your nerves become damaged. Scar tissue may form.

The damage means your brain can’t send signals through your body correctly. Your nerves also don’t work as they should to help you move and feel. As a result, you may have symptoms like:

  • Trouble walking
  • Feeling tired
  • Muscle weakness or spasms
  • Blurred or double vision
  • Numbness and tingling
  • Sexual problems
  • Poor bladder or bowel control
  • Pain
  • Depression
  • Problems focusing or remembering

The first symptoms often start between ages 20 and 40. Most people with MS have attacks, also called relapses, when the condition gets noticeably worse. They’re usually followed by times of recovery when symptoms improve. For other people, the disease continues to get worse over time.

PSORIASIS

Unpredictable and irritating, psoriasis is one of the most baffling and persistent of skin disorders. It’s characterized by skin cells that multiply up to 10 times faster than normal. As underlying cells reach the skin’s surface and die, their sheer volume causes raised, red plaques covered with white scales. Psoriasis typically occurs on the knees, elbows, and scalp, and it can also affect the torso, palms, and soles of the feet.

The symptoms of psoriasis vary depending on the type you have. Some common symptoms for plaque psoriasis – the most common variety of the condition – include:

  • Plaques of red skin, often covered with loose, silver-colored scales; these lesions may be itchy and painful, and they sometimes crack and bleed. In severe cases, the plaques of irritated skin will grow and merge into one another, covering large areas.
  • Disorders of the fingernails and toenails, including discoloration and pitting of the nails; the nails may also begin to crumble or detach from the nail bed.
  • Plaques of scales or crust on the scalp

Psoriasis can also be associated with psoriatic arthritis, which leads to pain and swelling in the joints. The National Psoriasis Foundation estimates that between 10% to 30% of people with psoriasis also have psoriatic arthritis.

SCLERODERMA

Scleroderma is a chronic skin disease. The problem is with your immune system, which causes your body to make too much of the protein collagen, an important part of your skin.

As a result, your skin gets thick and tight, and scars can form on your lungs and kidneys. Your blood vessels can thicken and not work the way they should. This leads to tissue damage and high blood pressure.

There are two types of scleroderma:

Localized scleroderma mainly affects the skin. There are two kinds of localized scleroderma:

  • Morphea: This involves hard, oval-shaped patches on the skin. They start out red or purple and then turn whitish in the center. Sometimes, but not often, this type can affect blood vessels or internal organs. This is called generalized morphea.
  • Linear: This kind causes lines or streaks of thickened skin to form on the arms, legs, or face.

Systemic scleroderma, also called generalized scleroderma, can involve many body parts or systems. There are two kinds of this as well:

  • Limited scleroderma: It comes on slowly and affects the skin of the face, hands, and feet. It can also damage the lungs, intestines, or esophagus, the tube that carries food from your mouth to your stomach. This is sometimes referred to as CREST syndrome. For many people with limited scleroderma, the outlook is good, but the disease tends to get worse over time. Sometimes, it can affect the heart and raise blood pressure in the lungs, though this can be treated.
  • Diffuse scleroderma: This comes on quickly. Skin on the middle part of the body, thighs, upper arms, hands, and feet can become thick. This form also affects internal organs, like the heart, lungs, kidneys, and gastrointestinal tract.

RHEUMATOID ARTHRITIS (RA)

Arthritis means inflammation in a joint. That inflammation causes redness, warmth, swelling, and pain within the joint.

Rheumatoid arthritis affects joints on both sides of the body, such as both hands, both wrists, or both knees. This symmetry helps to set it apart from other types of arthritis.

RA can also affect the skin, eyes, lungs, heart, blood, or nerves.

The warning signs of RA are:

  • Joint pain and swelling
  • Stiffness, especially in the morning or after you sit for a long time
  • Fatigue

Rheumatoid arthritis affects everyone differently. For some, joint symptoms develop gradually over several years. In others, it may come on quickly.

Some people may have rheumatoid arthritis for a short time and then go into remission, which means they don’t have symptoms.

Anyone can get RA. It affects about 1% of Americans.

The disease is two to three times more common in women than in men, but men tend to have more severe symptoms.

The disease usually starts in middle age. But young children and the elderly also can get it

GRAVES’ DISEASE

First described by Sir Robert Graves in the early 19th century, Graves’ disease is one of the most common of all thyroid problems.

It is also the leading cause of hyperthyroidism, a condition in which the thyroid gland produces excessive hormones.

Once the disorder has been correctly diagnosed, it is quite easy to treat. In some cases, Graves’ disease goes into remission or disappears completely after several months or years. Left untreated, however, it can lead to serious complications, even death.

Although the symptoms can cause discomfort, Graves’ disease generally has no long-term adverse health consequences if the patient receives prompt and proper medical care.

Women are more likely than men to develop the disease.

Eye trouble – usually in the form of inflamed and swollen eye muscles and tissues that can cause the eyeballs to protrude from their sockets – is a distinguishing complication of Graves’ disease. However, only a small percentage of all Graves’ patients will experience this condition, known as exophthalmos. Even among those who do, the severity of their bout with Graves’ has no bearing on the seriousness of the eye problem or how far the eyeballs protrude. In fact, it isn’t clear whether such eye complications stem from Graves’ disease itself or from a totally separate, yet closely linked, disorder. If you have developed exophthalmos, your eyes may ache and feel dry and irritated. Protruding eyeballs are prone to excessive tearing and redness, partly because the eyelids can no longer shelter them effectively from injury.

HASHIMOTO'S THYROIDITIS

Also called Hashimoto’s disease, Hashimoto’s thyroiditis is an autoimmune disease, a disorder in which the immune system turns against the body’s own tissues. In people with Hashimoto’s, the immune system attacks the thyroid gland. This can lead to hypothyroidism, a condition in which the thyroid does not make enough hormones for the body’s needs.

Located in the front of your neck, the thyroid gland makes hormones that control metabolism. This includes your heart rate and how quickly your body uses calories from the foods you eat.

Hashimoto’s symptoms may be mild at first or take years to develop. The first sign of the disease is often an enlarged thyroid, called a goiter. The goiter may cause the front of your neck to look swollen. A large goiter may make swallowing difficult. Other symptoms of an underactive thyroid due to Hashimoto’s may include:

  • weight gain
  • fatigue
  • paleness or puffiness of the face
  • joint and muscle pain
  • constipation
  • inability to get warm
  • difficulty getting pregnant
  • joint and muscle pain
  • hair loss or thinning, brittle hair
  • irregular or heavy menstrual periods
  • depression
  • slowed heart rate