Autoimmune Connective Tissue Disorders
These are also referred to as systemic autoimmune diseases. The autoimmune CTDs may have both genetic and environmental causes. Genetic factors may create a predisposition towards developing these autoimmune diseases. They are characterized as a group by the presence of spontaneous overactivity of the immune system that results in the production of extra antibodies into the circulation. The classic collagen vascular diseases have a "classic" presentation with typical findings that doctors can recognize during an examination. Each also has "classic" blood test abnormalities and abnormal antibody patterns. However, each of these diseases can evolve slowly or rapidly from very subtle abnormalities before demonstrating the classic features that help in the diagnosis. The classic collagen vascular diseases include:
- Systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) – An inflammation of the connective tissues, SLE can afflict every organ system. It is up to nine times more common in women than men and strikes black women three times as often as white women. The condition is aggravated by sunlight.
- Rheumatoid arthritis – Rheumatoid arthritis is a systemic disorder in which immune cells attack and inflame the membrane around joints. It also can affect the heart, lungs, and eyes. Of the estimated 2.1 million Americans with rheumatoid arthritis, approximately 1.5 million (71 percent) are women.
- Scleroderma – an activation of immune cells that produces scar tissue in the skin, internal organs, and small blood vessels. It affects women three times more often than men overall, but increases to a rate 15 times greater for women during childbearing years, and appears to be more common among black women.
- Sjögren's syndrome – also called Sjögren's disease, is a chronic, slowly progressing inability to secrete saliva and tears. It can occur alone or with rheumatoid arthritis, scleroderma, or systemic lupus erythematosus. Nine out of 10 cases occur in women, most often at or around mid-life.
- Mixed connective tissue disease – Mixed connective-tissue disease (MCTD) is a disorder in which features of various connective-tissue diseases (CTDs) such as systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE); systemic sclerosis (SSc); dermatomyositis (DM); polymyositis (PM); and, occasionally, Sjögren syndrome can coexist and overlap. The course of the disease is chronic and usually milder than other CTDs. In most cases, MCTD is considered an intermediate stage of a disease that eventually becomes either SLE or Scleroderma.
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