Autoimmune diseases arise from an overactive immune response of the body against substances and tissues normally present in the body. In other words, the body actually attacks its own cells.
This may be restricted to certain organs (e.g. in thyroiditis) or involve a particular tissue in different places (e.g. Goodpasture's disease which may affect the basement membrane in both the lung and the kidney). The treatment of autoimmune diseases is typically with immunosuppression—medication which decreases the immune response.
There is an on-going discussion about when a disease should be considered autoimmune, leading to different criteria such as Witebsky's postulates.
The causes may include molecular mimicry, or the presence of fetal cells in the maternal bloodstream, i.e. microchimerism, and infections with some viruses and bacteria.
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