What is An Overactive Immune System
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We all know how important it is to have a strong immune system to help us fight off certain health issues. Until recently I had never heard of an overactive immune system. I would like to share with you some of the negative health issues that can be caused by this condition, the causes, diagnosis, and ways of treating this disorder.
An overactive immune system is a condition in which the immune system of the body goes awry and begins to attack the body’s own cells and tissues. This results in pain and inflammation in the attacked region and chronic attack of the body parts conduce to autoimmune diseases and allergies…
An overactive immune system is a condition when your immune system starts killing cells and tissues inside your body. While an effective immune system is necessary to ensure good health, an overactive immune system is a threat in itself. Our immune system is like a line of defense that keeps our body protected against any harmful viruses and bacteria. However, there are times when our immune system can go awry and start attacking our own body tissues and cells. This can result in various other diseases and allergies. This condition when our immune system starts malfunctioning is known as the overactive immune system.
When your immune system is working fine, antibodies help to kill all foreign particles like viruses and bacteria by white blood cells. When something goes wrong inside your immune system, it is known to be overactive. The overactive immune system is now malfunctioning. The malfunctioning overactive immune system produces overactive white blood cells. The autoimmune-triggered white blood cells do not understand the difference between antibodies within invader cells and some of the healthy cells. Antibodies located within normal healthy cells attract autoimmune-triggered white blood cells. The overactive immune system produces killer white blood cells. The hyperactive white blood cells attracted by antibodies start killing normal healthy cells inside your body.
An overactive immune system is nothing but an immune system dysfunction and is also called autoimmunity or autoimmune disease. An overactive immune system results in autoimmune disorders and allergies due to an imbalance in the white blood cells of the body and other immune factors. This imbalance is caused by the overactivity of the immune components and when these components fail to differentiate between the enemy and their own body cells. This hyperactivity results in the destruction of various body tissues, changes in the functioning of organs, and even abnormal growth of these organs.
Overactive Immune System Diseases
The release of autoantibodies, which attack the tissues and organs of the body itself, results in overactive immune system diseases. Also known as autoimmune diseases, there are over 80 different chronic illnesses that occur due to an overactive immune system. These diseases can further be classified into two categories: Systemic autoimmune disease and localized autoimmune disease.
Systemic Autoimmune Diseases
These are those autoimmune diseases that affect several organs in the body and are not restricted to one organ system alone. Examples of systemic autoimmune diseases are as follows:
This disease involves damage to various parts of the body, especially the joints. It causes chronic inflammation of the joints and results in their permanent destruction, thereby rendering the person immobile in the long run. However, rheumatoid arthritis is not just limited to joint damage. It also affects the skin, blood, lungs, kidneys, etc. Commonly observed symptoms are fatigue, joint pain, and stiffness, loss of appetite, etc. The symptoms of this disease may keep appearing and disappearing with time. When the symptoms disappear, the disease is said to be in remission. However, remissions are seen to be followed by relapse phases, where the disease becomes active again.
This autoimmune disease is seen to affect different tissues and internal organs such as kidneys, heart, lungs, joints, etc. It is seen to occur more commonly in women, than men and causes inflammation of joints, skin, blood cells, and other parts of the body. Diagnosing this disease is a herculean task, simply because it mimics scores of other illnesses. The symptoms are so generic that it takes the specialist longer to identify the disease. There have been speculations that systemic lupus erythematosus and rheumatoid arthritis are also linked. Corticosteroids and antimalarial drugs are given to control the symptoms.
This disease is characterized by damage to moisture-producing glands such as salivary, tear glands, etc. Certain types of white blood cells (lymphocytes) get unusually accumulated in the glands and prevent them from performing their function of producing tears, saliva, etc. This is why people with this syndrome are seen to suffer from dry mouth and dry eyes. The vagina, skin, and nose are also seen to get dried. Again this condition is seen to affect women more than men. In the diagnostic tests, the amount of tear production is checked, however, diagnosing this disease is extremely difficult.
In this disease, the skin and connective tissues are seen to get hardened. Dry patches are seen to occur on the skin, which gets thicker and harder with time. This connective tissue disorder involves excess production of collagen fibers, thereby resulting in skin scarring and skin thickening. When skin patches are formed by this disease it is known to be localized, however, when organs like the heart, kidneys, lungs, etc. get affected it is called systemic scleroderma. Women belonging to the child-bearing age are seen to be more commonly affected than men.
This is a syndrome affecting the peripheral nervous system. Because the peripheral nervous system (PNS) connects one’s brain and spinal cord to the rest of the body, damage to the PNS prevents nerve signal transmission. Thus, messages from the brain fail to reach the muscles and the person is unable to perform motor functions. Thus, people experience tingling sensations and numbness in their arms, legs, etc. This syndrome is a rare autoimmune disease and is seen to result in body paralysis.
Besides the above-mentioned diseases, the other systemic autoimmune diseases are systemic vasculitis, Wegener’s granulomatosis, and rheumatic fever.
Localized Autoimmune Diseases
These are those autoimmune diseases that are seen to specifically affect one organ or a localized site in the human body.
Sometimes it so happens that the adrenal glands situated on top of the kidneys, do not produce adequate amounts of adrenal hormones (cortisol and aldosterone) due to some damage in their structure (adrenal cortex). This adrenal cortex damage can be caused by autoantibodies or by infections, hemorrhage, cancer, etc. This disease is seen to affect both men and women equally. The main problem with this disease is that it is often diagnosed once 70% to 80% of the cortex is destroyed because this is when it becomes symptomatic. Replacement corticosteroids are given to the patient to control the symptoms of this disease.
In this disease, the myelin sheath surrounding the nerve cells gets damaged, thereby affecting the conduction of nerve impulses in the brain, spinal cord, and the rest of the central nervous system. Since nerve conduction slows down, the person faces mobility issues, vision loss, numbness, giddiness, etc. In order to diagnose this disease, the doctor may carry out a lumbar puncture and MRI scan. While there is no cure for this disease, medicines are given to control the symptoms. This disease is seen to mainly affect women, rather than men.
For motor movements to take place, the nerve cells need to take impulses from the brain to the muscle cells and bring about the action. In this neuromuscular disorder, the muscle cells are unable to receive impulses and signals from the nerve cells, thereby causing muscle weakness, which increases activity and reduces after periods of rest. There is some connection between the thymus gland and this disease, however, what exactly it is, has not yet been determined. Although this disorder mainly affects striated or voluntary muscles, certain involuntary muscles of the eyes, mouth, etc. are also seen to be affected.
People whose bodies do not produce adequate amounts of insulin are said to suffer from type 1 diabetes mellitus. The autoimmune disease destroys the insulin-producing beta cells of the pancreas and within a decade or so, all the beta cells are destroyed by the autoantibodies. Thus, people with this form of diabetes have to take insulin all their lives. Usually, type 1 diabetes is seen to occur in childhood and the treatment goes on for life.
In this autoimmune disease, the autoantibodies destroy the collagen present in the alveoli of the lungs and glomeruli of the kidneys. This results in lung and kidney damage. In most cases, both organs get affected, however, in some people, either one organ gets affected and damaged. Goodpasture’s disease is seen to affect men more than women. Diagnosis of this disease involves checking for abnormal lung sounds which indicate lung damage or fluid retention, the presence of blood or protein in the urine, etc. which indicates kidney damage. Treatment measures in the form of plasmapheresis and corticosteroid medication administration are carried out.
Some other localized autoimmune diseases are ulcerative colitis, Crohn’s disease, Grave’s disease, Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, Pernicious anemia, etc.
However, there are diseases that do not fall into either category, because they attack a localized organ system, but are capable of affecting neighboring organs as well. Often people are seen to be affected by more than one autoimmune disease. For example, if a patient is suffering from sclerosing cholangitis, he or she is also seen to be affected by ulcerative colitis, or a person suffering from Addison’s disease is mostly seen to be affected by type 1 diabetes as well.
The overactive immune system is also known as an autoimmune disease. It can be caused by an imbalance in the proportion of WBC (White Blood Cells) due to various factors. The immune system may begin to malfunction when the WBCs fail to differentiate between their own body cells and foreign particles. This overactive state can result in the destruction of normal and healthy body cells and can also affect the functioning of organs due to the abnormal growth of organs. Over a period of time, an overactive immune system can result in various types of autoimmune conditions such as sclerosis and arthritis.
In both conditions, the immune system starts attacking the myelin sheath of central and peripheral nerves as well as the synovial membrane of most joints. There are other types of autoimmune diseases that can also be caused due to overactive immune systems such as inflammatory bowel diseases, psoriasis, fibromyalgia, and Lupus.
The exact cause of the overactive immune system is not clearly understood but certain factors are known to precipitate it. Genetic changes can be one of the major reasons for autoimmune diseases. There can be various other factors such as stress, hormonal changes, infections, and chemical toxicity that could lead to these problems.
What Are The Symptoms
When antibodies start attacking your own body cells, the impact could be localized to a certain part of your body or to a certain type of tissue. There can be various symptoms generated once the autoimmune inflammatory changes occur in the affected tissue. A dysfunctional immune system can start affecting the synovial membranes, cartilage, and joint capsules inside the minor and major joints, which results in joint inflammation and pain. As the attack continues, it can even result in specific diseases such as arthritis. In such conditions, joint pain and inflammation are common symptoms of an overactive immune system.
The malfunctioning immune system is also known to affect the connective tissues in the body. In such conditions, symptoms of an overactive immune system may include symptoms caused by inflammation of tendons and connective tissue linings of organs. The hyperactive immune system enhances the symptoms and signs caused by allergies that result in colds, coughs, and skin problems.
When organs of the immune system attack the body’s own cells and tissues, they conduce to localized inflammation in the area where the attack occurs and may give rise to various related symptoms. For example, if the immune system in its dysfunctional state attacks the synovial membrane present in the joints, then inflammation will occur at these joints along with pain. As the attack continues it will result in arthritis and one will experience early arthritis symptoms. So basically, the symptoms comprise pain and inflammation in the attacked region. Fever, muscle aches, dizziness, and fatigue are also commonly observed autoimmune disease symptoms.
Some of the other symptoms of the overactive immune system also include muscle aches, gastric disturbances, dizziness, and fatigue. Low-grade fever and raised white blood cells are common signs of an overactive immune system.
There can be more than 80 different types of autoimmune chronic illnesses caused by an overactive immune system. The autoimmune disease triggers the secretion of protein molecules known as auto-antibodies. The auto-antibodies attack the interior of cells of body tissues. Diseases caused by malfunctioning of the immune system are classified as systematic autoimmune diseases and localized autoimmune diseases.
Investigations to diagnose and treat the overactive immune systems are often planned based on the symptoms presented. Diseases caused by an overactive autoimmune system can be diagnosed by various examinations such as blood tests, physical examinations, X-rays, and scans. It may be difficult to diagnose an overactive immune system in the early stages of diseases and some of the test data may not be suitable to come to any conclusions.
Autoimmune system diseases are diagnosed by a combination of blood tests, findings from physical examination, history of the patient, and investigative procedures like X-rays, etc. However, these diseases are quite difficult to diagnose, especially in the initial stages of the disease, because the symptoms and test data may not be specific enough to come to any conclusions.
Treatment for An Overacting Immune System
Some of the most common types of treatments for overactive immune systems are immune suppressants, chemotherapy, and corticosteroids. The individual suffering from symptoms of autoimmune disease must be seen by a primary care physician and specialist. Treatment for malfunctioning immune systems is best advised by specialists. The treatment is often specific to a person’s symptoms and depends on the person’s health status. There can also be various side effects when chemotherapy or corticosteroids are prescribed. The side effects can be detrimental to the body, hence all treatment options must be discussed with an experienced physician.
Until recently, the most common overactive immune system treatments administered were steroids, chemotherapy, and important immunosuppressants. However, these medicines have various side effects and prove detrimental to the body. The latest, effective treatments target only those parts of the immune system that are dysfunctional. They do this by blocking specific molecules in the inflammatory pathway. Autologous hematopoietic stem cell transplants (HSCTs) are known to be the most promising measure to achieve long-term remission from these autoimmune diseases. These transplants involve removing dysfunctional cells of the immune system and replacing them with fresh cells.
Treatment of the overactive immune system includes a course of corticosteroids, chemotherapy, and anti-inflammatory medications. In a few cases, surgery may be necessary. Natural Remedies are occasionally used to support medications and interventional treatment.
- Seek medical opinion before trying any natural therapies and with appropriate laboratory tests, get your diagnosis confirmed.
- Reduce your stress with the help of relaxing techniques, listening to music, and being involved in creative arts, yoga, and meditation.
- Start eating healthy fruits and vegetables such as whole grains, low-fat milk, protein, fish, and eggs. Drink plenty of water and reduce your salt, sugar, and oil intake. Take necessary vitamin and mineral supplements as advised by your physician.
- Sleep for around 6-8 hours as it is also helpful in improving your immune system. Maintain a balance of work and rest.
- Start doing regular exercise, meditation, and yoga.
- Use immune boosters by seeking approval from your doctor. There are certain natural boosters available such as aloe vera, beta-glucans, medicinal mushrooms, suma, Echinacea, and other anti-pathogens such as oregano; grapefruit seed extracts, olive leaf, and garlic.
There are certain herbs and foods that help manage the immune system and bring it back to normalcy.
- Reishi mushrooms are useful in the management of an overactive immune system. The mushroom has the power to regulate the immune system, either decreasing/increasing its power. It exerts a tonifying effect on the immune and defense mechanisms of the body.
- American ginseng is a wonderful herb that treats an overactive immune system. It works by reducing swelling and inflammatory reactions at the affected site, thus alleviating the symptoms. Ashwagandha is used extensively in Ayurvedic medicine. It promises to regulate the immune system and manage the symptoms efficiently. Licorice possesses distinctive immuno-modulator activity that calms an overactive immune system as well as stimulates an underactive one.
Many mushrooms are helpful for the immune system, but reishi mushrooms, in particular, can help with an overactive immune system. According to the Secrets of Immunity website, reishi is an immunomodulator, which “regulates the immune system, either increasing or decreasing its power.”
It is important to use an adaptogenic food or herb such as reishi, instead of herbs that stimulate the immune system when dealing with an overactive immune system. As Edward C. Wallace, N.D., D.C. notes, “Modern herbalists say adaptogenic herbs are plants with properties that exert a normalizing influence on the body, neither over-stimulating nor inhibiting normal body function, but rather exerting a generalized tonifying effect.”
- Many mushrooms are helpful for the immune system, but reishi mushrooms, in particular, can help with an overactive immune system.
- It is important to use an adaptogenic food or herb such as reishi, instead of herbs that stimulate the immune system when dealing with an overactive immune system.
American ginseng is another herb that can be helpful in treating an overactive immune system. Inflammation is often a byproduct of immunity that has gone into overdrive, and auto-immune diseases may eventually develop. In one study conducted by the Department of Pharmaceutical and Biomedical Sciences at South Carolina College of Pharmacy and published in “Oxford Journals,” American ginseng was found to target inflammation in mice suffering from ulcerative colitis, often labeled as an auto-immune disorder.
Ashwagandha is an herb that has been used in Ayurvedic and Indigenous medicine for over 3000 years, according to Thorne Research in a synopsis of studies on the herb. Besides helping the liver and being anti-inflammatory, Thorne Research notes clinical trials and animal research support using this herb for anxiety, Parkinson’s disease, nervous exhaustion, insomnia, and debility due to stress, all possible symptoms of an overactive immune system.
Another herb defined as adaptogenic, licorice is useful in repairing damaged adrenal glands according to Stephen Harrod Buhner in his book, “Herbal Antibiotics: Natural Alternatives for Treating Drug-Resistant Bacteria.” Buhner notes that licorice stimulates the thymus gland, and also “possesses a distinct immunomodulatory activity” which can both calm an overactive immune system and stimulate an underactive one.
Please always consult with your doctor before using any herbal remedies.
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