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Your body’s immune system, when it is working normally, is your first line of defense against infections. Autoimmune diseases occur when your immune system changes from protector into attacker. Your immune system, built to fight bacteria and viruses, turns against your body, seeing healthy cells as foreign bodies and damaging organs and tissues.
Women make up more than three-fourths of all cases of autoimmune diseases. Women of childbearing age and people with family histories of certain autoimmune diseases, such as multiple sclerosis and lupus, are considered to be at higher risk. More than 23 million people in the United States currently suffer from one of more than 80 different autoimmune diseases. The list includes rheumatoid arthritis, lupus and multiple sclerosis.
Autoimmune diseases are a leading cause of disability and death.
Researchers are still working to find the exact causes of autoimmune diseases, but a mix of environmental and genetic factors is thought to play an important role.