In an autoimmune disorder Autoimmune Disorders An autoimmune disorder is a malfunction of the body's immune system that causes the body to attack its own tissues. What triggers an autoimmune disorder is not known. Symptoms vary depending... read more , antibodies or cells produced by the body attack the body’s own tissues. Many autoimmune disorders affect connective tissue and a variety of organs. Connective tissue is the structural tissue that gives strength to joints, tendons, ligaments, and blood vessels.
Autoimmune rheumatic disorders include
Rheumatoid arthritis Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA) Rheumatoid arthritis is an inflammatory arthritis in which joints, usually including those of the hands and feet, are inflamed, resulting in swelling, pain, and often destruction of joints.... read more and spondyloarthritis Overview of Spondyloarthritis Spondyloarthritis (also called spondyloarthropathy or spondyloarthritides) is a term used to describe a group of connective tissue diseases that cause prominent joint inflammation. These diseases... read more are examples of other autoimmune disorders that affect connective tissue.
Autoimmune disorders can affect other tissues in the body beside connective tissue, and some people with autoimmune disorders of connective tissue have other kinds of autoimmune disorders, such as Hashimoto thyroiditis Hashimoto Thyroiditis Hashimoto thyroiditis is chronic, autoimmune inflammation of the thyroid gland. Hashimoto thyroiditis results when antibodies in the body attacks the cells of the thyroid gland—an autoimmune... read more (an autoimmune thyroid disorder that can lead to overactivity or underactivity of the thyroid gland).
In autoimmune disorders, inflammation and the immune response may result in connective tissue damage, not only in and around joints but also in other tissues, including vital organs, such as the kidneys and organs in the gastrointestinal tract. The sac that surrounds the heart (pericardium), the membrane that covers the lungs (pleura), and even the brain can be affected. The type and severity of symptoms depend on which organs are affected.
Most autoimmune rheumatic disorders increase the risk of developing cholesterol deposits (plaques) in arteries, resulting in hardening of the arteries (atherosclerosis Atherosclerosis Atherosclerosis is a condition in which patchy deposits of fatty material (atheromas or atherosclerotic plaques) develop in the walls of medium-sized and large arteries, leading to reduced or... read more ).
A doctor's evaluation
Sometimes established criteria
An autoimmune disorder of connective tissue (also called an autoimmune rheumatic disorder or autoimmune collagen-vascular disorder) is diagnosed on the basis of its particular symptom pattern, the findings during a physical examination, and the results of laboratory tests (such as blood tests and biopsies). For some of these disorders, doctors can also base the diagnosis on an established set of criteria.
Sometimes the symptoms of one disease overlap with those of another so much that doctors cannot make a distinction. In this case, the disorder may be called undifferentiated connective tissue disease or an overlap disease.
Corticosteroids and/or other drugs that suppress the immune system
Many autoimmune disorders of connective tissue are treated with corticosteroids, other drugs that suppress the immune system (immunosuppressive drugs), or both.
People who take corticosteroids, such as prednisone, are at risk of fractures related to osteoporosis Osteoporosis Osteoporosis is a condition in which a decrease in the density of bones weakens the bones, making breaks (fractures) likely. Aging, estrogen deficiency, low vitamin D or calcium intake, and... read more . To prevent osteoporosis, these people may be given the drugs used to treat osteoporosis, such as bisphosphonates, denosumab, teriparatide, and supplemental vitamin D and calcium.
People whose immune system is suppressed by corticosteroids and other drugs and by autoimmune disease itself are often given drugs to prevent infections such as by the fungus Pneumocystis jirovecii (see prevention of pneumonia in immunocompromised people Prevention Pneumonia is infection of the lungs. Pneumonia in people whose immune system is weakened or impaired (for example, by acquired immunodeficiency syndrome [AIDS], cancer, organ transplantation... read more ). It is also important for them to get recommended vaccinations, such as the influenza vaccine Influenza Vaccine The influenza virus vaccine helps protect against influenza. Two types of influenza virus, type A and type B, regularly cause seasonal epidemics of influenza in the United States. There are... read more , pneumococcal vaccine Pneumococcal Vaccine Pneumococcal vaccines help protect against bacterial infections caused by Streptococcus pneumoniae (pneumococci). Pneumococcal infections include ear infections, sinusitis, pneumonia... read more , and COVID-19 COVID-19 Vaccine Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) vaccines provide protection against COVID-19. COVID-19 is the disease caused by infection with the SARS-CoV-2 virus. There are multiple COVID-19 vaccines... read more vaccine.
In people who have overlap diseases, doctors treat symptoms and organ dysfunction as they develop.
Although many people who have autoimmune disorders of connective tissue have tried changing their diet to reduce the inflammation caused by these disorders, as of now there are no compelling scientific data that an "anti-inflammatory" diet can alter the course of autoimmune disorders.