13 Sept 22 Article 01

Why is the immune system attacking itself?

Human immune system is a network of intricate stages and pathways in the body which protects us against harmful organism as well as certain diseases. It recognizes foreign invaders like bacteria, viruses, and parasites and takes immediate action. Generally, the immune system is able to differentiate between foreign cells and host cells (body’s own cell). However, in an autoimmune disease, the immune system mistaken part of your body, as foreign hence releasing proteins called antibodies which attacks the body’s healthy cells. The exact cause of autoimmune disease is unknown. However, there are risk factors that may increase the possibility of getting an autoimmune disease. These risk factors include:


  • Gender

According to a 2014 study, women are more likely than males to develop autoimmune illnesses (6.4% of women versus 2.7% of men). The disease often starts during childbearing age (ages 15 to 44). One theory deduced by researchers is that this is due to higher levels of hormones in women during the childbearing years which could make women more prone to developing autoimmune disease.


  • Medication

Drug-induced lupus is an autoimmune disorder caused by a reaction to certain medications. Procainamide and hydralazine are two drugs more commonly associated with drug-induced lupus. Nevertheless, taking these medications does not mean you will certainly develop drug-induced lupus.


  • Genetic

Some autoimmune disease such as lupus and multiple sclerosis runs in the family. Although not every family member may have the same illness, they inherit a susceptibility to an autoimmune condition.


  • Obesity

According to research, obesity causes the body’s protective self-tolerance to break down with the involvement of adipokines. This creates the ideal conditions for autoimmune illnesses. Obesity is believed to be a major environmental factor contributing to the onset and progression of autoimmune disease.


  • Unhealthy diet

Eating an unhealthy diet high in fat and sugar as well as highly processed foods are likely to contribute to inflammation which might set off an immune response.


  • Infection

In some situation, there are foreign cells which shares the same amino sequences or structures also known as epitopes with the host cells. Consequently, when the immune system of the host reacts against the foreign cells, it will also accidentally cross-react with the same epitopes of the host thus causing damage to the healthy host cells.

If you think you might have an autoimmune disease, always consult with your healthcare professional.


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  2. Solhjoo M, Goyal A, Chauhan K. Drug-induced lupus erythematosus. InStatPearls [Internet] 2022 Apr 6. StatPearls Publishing.
  3. Versini M, Jeandel PY, Rosenthal E, Shoenfeld Y. Obesity in autoimmune diseases: not a passive bystander. Autoimmunity reviews. 2014 Sep 1;13(9):981-1000.
  4. Manzel A, Muller DN, Hafler DA, Erdman SE, Linker RA, Kleinewietfeld M. Role of “Western diet” in inflammatory autoimmune diseases. Current allergy and asthma reports. 2014 Jan;14(1):1-8.
  5. Ercolini AM, Miller SD. The role of infections in autoimmune disease. Clinical & Experimental Immunology. 2009 Jan;155(1):1-5.

One thought on “Why is the immune system attacking itself?

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