The term “autoimmune disease” refers to a varied group of illnesses that involve almost every human organ system. It includes diseases of the nervous, gastrointestinal, and endocrine systems, as well as skin and other connective tissues, eyes, blood and blood vessels. In all of these diseases, the underlying problem is “autoimmunity” – the body’s immune system becomes misdirected and attacks the very organs it was designed to protect.
Autoimmunity as a Disease Category
Unlike cancer, which is an umbrella category for a range of diseases (leukemia, breast cancer, prostate cancer, non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, et al.), autoimmunity has yet to be embraced by the medical community (and the public) as a category of disease. Because these diseases cross the different medical specialties, such as rheumatology, endocrinology, hematology, neurology, cardiology, gastroenterology, and dermatology, and because such specialties usually focus on singular diseases within their particular category, there has been virtually no general focus on autoimmunity as the underlying cause. It has been estimated that autoimmune diseases are responsible for more that $100 billion in direct health care costs annually.