A collection of conditions in which the body’s immune system (see IMMUNITY) attacks its own tissues, identifying them as foreign substances. Genetic factors may play a part in this abnormal function, but the causes are not clear. The disorder may aﬀect one organ (organ-speciﬁc) or type of cell, or several (non-organspeciﬁc). Among the autoimmune disorders are ADDISON’S DISEASE; autoimmune haemolytic anaemia and pernicious anaemia (see under ANAEMIA); autoimmune chronic active HEPATITIS; DIABETES MELLITUS; MYASTHENIA GRAVIS; RHEUMATOID ARTHRITIS; and SYSTEMIC LUPUS ERYTHEMATOSUS (SLE).
Treatment Any major deﬁciencies, such as thyroxin or insulin lack, should be corrected. The activity of the immune system should then be reduced. CORTICOSTEROIDS and, in more severe cases, strong immunosuppressant drugs – AZATHIOPRINE, CYCLOPHOSPHAMIDE or METHOTREXATE – should be administered. Treatment is diﬃcult because of the need to control the autoimmune condition without damaging the body’s ability to combat other diseases.