Monday, March 17, 2008

Autoimmune: When Your Body Attacks


NO! Those cells are NOT the enemy! Bad immune system!

Luckily, I do not have an autoimmune problem. Mrs. Bobblehead does. She has ulcerative colitis. And it is a nasty disorder.
Autoimmunes are tough. Basically, your body has a very complex manner in which it fights infection and invasion by outside enemies (like parasites). White blood cells are the main soldiers and their attacks on invaders are relentless. But the true miracle of your immune system are antibodies. The way antibodies work took even the most hardened scientists by surprise. It was assumed for the longest time that you had a number of different antibodies for different bacteria, viruses, etc. The truth is, once your body=y has identified something as a threat, your body creates antibodies against that threat...and those antibodies are created and circulated through your body for life. True, the number for any given threat (say small pox) is small when you are not infected, but grow once your body realizes it is under attack. Your lymph floods the body with the needed antibodies which act as recon for the white blood cells. They say, "hey, attack that virus." and the white blood cells say, "Sir, yes sir!"
The only problem is that it does not quite work that way. Your immune system does not have brains and it does not actually talk. So, if a bacteria comes in and, using camouflage, mimics your body's own tissue, all hell can break out. You immune system can see that the bacteria does not quite belong but because of the mimic, it cannot readily distinguish between the invader and the natural tissue it is mimicking. Your body's immune system shrugs, makes a ton of new antibody, and attacks the bacteria. The problem is, since the antibody cannot tell the difference between, say your cartilage in your joints, and the invader, it attaches to both. In doing so it directs the attack of the white blood cells against both. And since you have a lot of cartilage, your body keeps making antibodies and therefore the white blood cells keep on attacking. The result: an autoimmune disease, or in this case rheumatoid arthritis. Bad.

RA is dreadfully painful, and there is no cure. The best way is to fight with steroids. Of course steroids, usually Prednisone, have there own nasty side effects such as weight gain, "moon face," and chronic organ failure. Ouch.

Sasha has a wonderful blog, Type A with RA (, which I found. She, like so many others that write on their own experiences with diseases and disorders, puts a true human face to her life. She balances RA with her career, her relationship, her hobbies (surfing, dude!), and life. It is a great blog with great news and first hand words on dealing with RA but is also a window into a wonderful woman's soul. Take a look.

[posted by Bobblehead]