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Autoimmune Disorders Symptoms

Symptoms of autoimmune disease vary widely depending on the type of disease. A group of very nonspecific symptoms often accompany autoimmune diseases especially of the collagen vascular type and include:

  • fatigue
  • dizziness
  • malaise (nonspecific feeling of not being well)
  • fever, low-grade temperature elevations

Specific autoimmune disease symptoms results in:

  • destruction of an organ or tissue resulting in decreased functioning of an organ or tissue (for example, the islet cells of the pancreas are destroyed in diabetes)
  • increase in size of an organ or tissue (for example, thyroid enlargement in Grave's disease)


Autoimmune Disorders Symptoms by condition

  • Systemic lupus erythematosus. Symptoms include fever, chills, fatigue, weight loss, skin rashes (particularly the classic "butterfly" rash on the face), vasculitis, polyarthralgia, patchy hair loss, sores in the mouth or nose, lymph-node enlargement, gastric problems, and, in women, irregular periods. About half of those who suffer from lupus develop cardiopulmonary problems, and some may also develop urinary problems. Lupus can also effect the central nervous system, causing seizures, depression, and psychosis.
  • Rheumatoid arthritis. Initially may be characterized by a low-grade fever, loss of appetite, weight loss, and a generalized pain in the joints. The joint pain then becomes more specific, usually beginning in the fingers, then spreading to other areas, such as the wrists, elbows, knees, and ankles. As the disease progresses, joint function diminishes sharply and deformities occur, particularly the characteristic "swan's neck" curling of the fingers.
  • Goodpasture's syndrome. Symptoms are similar to that of iron deficiency anemia, including fatigue and pallor. Symptoms involving the lungs may range from a cough that produces bloody sputum to outright hemorrhaging. Symptoms involving the urinary system include blood in the urine and/or swelling.
  • Grave's disease. This disease is characterized by an enlarged thyroid gland, weight loss without loss of appetite, sweating, heart palpitations, nervousness, and an inability to tolerate heat.
  • Hashimoto's thyroiditis. This disorder generally displays no symptoms.
  • Pemphigus vulgaris. This disease is characterized by blisters and deep lesions on the skin.
  • Myasthenia gravis. Characterized by fatigue and muscle weakness that at first may be confined to certain muscle groups, but then may progress to the point of paralysis. Myasthenia gravis patients often have expressionless faces as well as difficulty chewing and swallowing. If the disease progresses to the respiratory system, artificial respiration may be required.
  • Scleroderma. Disorder is usually preceded by Raynaud's phenomenon. Symptoms that follow include pain, swelling, and stiffness of the joints, and the skin takes on a tight, shiny appearance. The digestive system also becomes involved, resulting in weight loss, appetite loss, diarrhea, constipation, and distention of the abdomen. As the disease progresses, the heart, lungs, and kidneys become involved, and malignant hypertension causes death in approximately 30% of cases.
  • Autoimmune hemolytic anemia. May be acute or chronic. Symptoms include fatigue and abdominal tenderness due to an enlarged spleen.
  • Autoimmune thrombocytopenic purpura. Characterized by pinhead-size red dots on the skin, unexplained bruises, bleeding from the nose and gums, and blood in the stool.
  • Polymyositis and Dermatomyositis. In polymyositis, symptoms include muscle weakness, particularly in the shoulders or pelvis, that prevents the patient from performing everyday activities. In dermatomyositis, the same muscle weakness is accompanied by a rash that appears on the upper body, arms, and fingertips. A rash may also appear on the eyelids, and the area around the eyes may become swollen.
  • Pernicious anemia. Signs of pernicious anemia include weakness, sore tongue, bleeding gums, and tingling in the extremities. Because the disease causes a decrease in stomach acid, nausea, vomiting, loss of appetite, weight loss, diarrhea, and constipation are possible. Also, because Vitamin B12 is essential for the nervous system function, the deficiency of it brought on by the disease can result in a host of neurological problems, including weakness, lack of coordination, blurred vision, loss of fine motor skills, loss of the sense of taste, ringing in the ears, and loss of bladder control.
  • Sjögren's syndrome. Characterized by excessive dryness of the mouth and eyes.
  • Ankylosing spondylitis. Generally begins with lower back pain that progresses up the spine. The pain may eventually become crippling.
  • Vasculitis. Symptoms depend upon the group of veins affected and can range greatly.
  • Type I diabetes mellitus. Characterized by fatigue and an abnormally high level of glucose in the blood (hyperglycemia).

Modified 8-19-03
Information compiled from the National Institutes of Health


This web site is intended for your own informational purposes only. No person or entity associated with this web site purports to be engaging in the practice of medicine through this medium. The information you receive is not intended as a substitute for the advice of a physician or other health care professional. If you have an illness or medical problem, contact your health care provider.


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