The term "Autoimmune Disease" refers to a varied group of more than 80 serious, chronic illnesses that involve almost every human organ system. It involves diseases of the nervous, gastrointestinal, and endocrine systems as well as the eyes and joints. They strike more than 50 million Americans—on par with those affected by heart disease and cancer. About 75 percent of autoimmune diseases occur in women, most frequently during the child bearing years. Examples of autoimmune diseases include multiple sclerosis (MS), rheumatoid arthritis (RA), Systemic Lupus Erythematosus (SLE), Crohn's disease and Type I Diabetes.
The underlying effect of autoimmune diseases is the same—the body's immune system mistakenly attacks itself and damages the cells, tissues and organs of the person's own body. The cause of these diseases is unknown, although it may involve viruses and environmental factors, such as exposure to certain chemicals, sunlight and some drugs.