Experts know of more than 80 autoimmune diseases that, collectively, affect more than 24 million Americans. Diagnosing conditions like lupus, multiple sclerosis, and rheumatoid arthritis is difficult, and most people with these incurable diseases need lifelong treatment to ease their symptoms.
The immune system protects the body by recognizing antigens on the surface things that can cause harm — such as bacteria, viruses, toxins, and cancer cells — and attacking them. Autoimmune diseases occur when the immune system cannot distinguish between healthy tissue and harmful antigens and begins to attack healthy cells. The exact cause of this misdirected attack is unknown.
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