Normally, the immune system fights foreign substances such as bacteria, viruses or parasites to keep harmful influences away from the body. In autoimmune diseases, however, the immune system also attacks the body’s own structures, causing chronic inflammation and tissue damage. This can affect a specific organ, such as the pancreas or thyroid gland, or entire functional systems, such as nerves, skin or blood vessels. A distinction is therefore made between organ-specific and systemic autoimmune diseases:
- Organ-specific autoimmune diseases
z. B. Multiple sclerosis, chronic inflammatory bowel diseases (morbus crohn, ulcerative colitis), diabetes mellitus type 1, morbus basedow
- Systemic autoimmune diseases
z. B. Rheumatoid arthritis, polymyalgia rheumatica, lupus erythematosus, scleroderma, systemic vasculitides, psoriasis vulgaris
Autoimmune diseases are not rare: they are the third most common group of diseases after diseases of the cardiovascular system and tumor diseases. The causes of autoimmune diseases are still unknown. In addition to environmental factors, hereditary factors also seem to play a role.
Lupus erythematosus and scleroderma
Lupus erythematosus and scleroderma, together with other diseases, belong to the group of connective tissue inflammations (collagenoses). Small blood vessels and the connective tissue in the skin undergo inflammatory changes. Some patients also experience inflammation of organs or organ systems (e.g. B. in eyes, joints, muscles, kidneys, lungs, heart, gastrointestinal tract). Adults often develop the disease in their young and middle years, and women more often than men.
At lupus erythematosus a so-called butterfly erythema is often observed: a reddening of the skin that extends over the nose and cheeks in the shape of a butterfly. Further skin changes, especially in light-exposed areas, as well as mucosal changes may occur. If internal organs are affected, different complaints occur depending on the organ, for example joint pain, kidney inflammation or inflammation of the pericardium. The disease usually progresses in relapses. Certain triggers can cause or exacerbate flare-ups, including sunlight, smoking, stress, infections, hormonal changes, or certain medications. Those affected should therefore avoid known triggers, for example through consistent light protection measures and avoidance of nicotine.
In the scleroderma there is an increasing hardening of the connective tissue, which is accompanied by a thickening of the skin on the hands and feet, sometimes also on the arms, body and face. This can significantly limit mobility and facial expression. Often, the esophagus, stomach and lungs are also affected, which manifests itself, for example, as dysphagia, heartburn or shortness of breath. Kidneys and the heart can also be affected. A typical concomitant phenomenon is the occurrence of attacks of circulatory disturbances in the fingers or toes (Rynaud phenomenon). The disease can progress very differently in speed and severity depending on the extent and severity of the tissue changes.
Even today, autoimmune diseases cannot be completely cured.
However, inflammatory activity and disease sequelae can be reduced and controlled with consistent treatment. The goal is to prevent progressive organ destruction and to maintain symptom-free phases of the disease.
Helping people to help themselves is an important concern for us. We would like to show our patients how to cope with their disease and actively manage it.
More than just conventional medicine – for autoimmune diseases
A complete cure for autoimmune diseases is not yet possible. In many cases there is a genetic predisposition, but the exact causes are still largely unclear. The aim of therapy is therefore to alleviate symptoms and to achieve as complete a cessation of the disease (remission) as possible. Depending on the disease, conventional medical treatment alleviates the symptoms with anti-inflammatory or pain-relieving drugs and keeps the immune system permanently under control with immunomodulators or immunosuppressants. When organ performance is limited, the missing substances, z.B. Thyroid hormones or insulin substituted. Other measures, such as physical therapy, have a supporting effect.
Complementary medicine used in the hospital for naturopathic medicine (kfn) to accompany conventional medicine is an important supplement in the treatment of autoimmune diseases. Classical naturopathic methods and homeopathy support therapy and can contribute to a lasting improvement in symptoms by activating the body’s regulatory powers. Helping people to help themselves" also has a special place in the Kfn. Patients are guided and supported in dealing with their illness and stressful situations, for example through stress management strategies.