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Autoimmunity - an Introduction

Autoimmunity - The Enemy within our Bodies

Acting as a protective shield, our immune system wards off invaders like bacteria and viruses. If it is intact and in working order, this defence system activates the various immune cells that can rapidly and effectively overcome any threat from a viral or bacterial attack.

Links to cells of the immune systems
White blood cell micrographs
basophil granulocytes
neutrophil granulocytes
plasma cells

However, when it turns against the body’s own tissue, the consequences are fatal: the cells of our immune system get out of control. They turn against the body itself and begin to destroy healthy tissue, leading to impaired function or even complete failure of the affected organ. This results in autoimmune disease often causing severe and life-threatening complications.

Rheumatoid arthritis for example leads to progressive destruction of the joints. Defensive cells of the immune system first attack the synovial membranes in the joints. The synovial membrane begins to grow and generates substances that destroy cartilage and bone.

Rheumatoid inflammation of a joint
© Orgentec Diagnostika

Rheumatoid arthritis usually begins subtly, with swelling, pain, and problems with movement of the finger joints. The bones of the joint slip out of their normal positions and the joints deform and lose their function. As a clinical picture the characteristic deformations of the rheumatic hand become visible:

Progressive deformation of the finger joints caused by rheumatoid arthritis
Quelle: NIH ( Wikimedia Commons )
Typical X-ray image of the right hand of a patient suffering from rheumatoid arthritis
Aufnahme: Bernd Brägelmann

Further reading

  • Focus Rheumatology: State-of-the-art diagnostics and early therapy (PDF-Download). In: Up-to-Date 2007, Publisher Orgentec Diagnostika, Mainz, Germany.
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