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Published On: Fri, Sep 15th, 2017

Similarities and Differences between the different Autoimmune Blood Disorders

Autoimmune disease is caused by the body’s immune system producing proteins, called antibodies, which attack normal cells of the body. Now, since this process is caused by the immune system, where mainly the white cells in the blood stream are involved, all of these autoimmune conditions can then be regarded as “blood disorders”. Doctors and researchers are not entirely sure why this process occurs, but it is thought that genetic, environmental and various infective processes may be involved.

This thin section transmission electron micrograph (TEM) depicts numerous virions revealed in a preparation of HIV (human immunodeficiency virus). Image/CDC

This autoimmune process can involve nearly every single cell type, tissue and organ in the body. For example, antibodies produced against the pancreas islet cells leads to type 1 diabetes, those against the thyroid gland cause hypothyroidism, and attacks against the lining of the small intestine leads to celiac disease.

The white cells can also form antibodies that attack other white cells, the red blood cells and the platelets in the blood stream. As a result, numerous autoimmune conditions can develop where blood cells are the cause and target of these autoimmune processes. In this article, we shall further discuss the different conditions that can occur when different blood cells are involved in autoimmune reactions.

The different types of autoimmune blood disorders

Two different groups of autoimmune blood conditions exist. These are conditions where the antibodies attack the affected blood cell directly (called the “true” blood disorders), and those where the blood cells are affected by other autoimmune conditions. These two groups are then referred to as primary and secondary types, respectively.

The autoimmune blood disorders that are caused as a result of a direct attack by the circulating antibodies result in the following features:

  • Neutropenia (decreased white cell count)
  • Anemia (decreased red cell count)
  • Thrombocytopenia (decreased platelet count)

How the hemophilia gene is inherited/National Heart Lung and Blood Institute (NIH)

Primary autoimmune blood disorder causes

Autoimmune haemolytic anemia and immune thrombocytopenic purpura are the two main autoimmune conditions that are part of this first group of autoimmune processes.

Autoimmune haemolytic anemia is caused by the antibodies attacking the red blood cells, which causes them to rupture and become dysfunctional. This process results in decreased oxygen supply to the tissues and organs of the body, and the involved individual experiences issues such as skin paleness, fatigue, and shortness of breath. Due to the release of bile from the red blood cells, these patients also present with jaundice (yellow discoloration of the white of the eyes and/or skin) and the production of dark-colored urine. In severe cases, patients can experience irregular heart rhythms and may even lose consciousness due to decreased oxygen supply to the heart and brain, respectively.

Immune thrombocytopenic purpura is caused by the antibodies attacking the platelets, which causes them to become trapped in the spleen and destroyed. This results in the affected person experiencing a decreased clotting ability, and they can bleed excessively if they are injured.

Autoimmune lymphoproliferative syndrome is another autoimmune blood disorder complex. This condition results in an increase in white blood cells, and this can sometimes predispose the affected person to certain blood cancers, such as lymphoma.

Darkfield microscopy of Treponema pallidum
Credits: CDC

Secondary autoimmune blood disorder causes

Autoimmune conditions such as antiphospholipid syndrome and systemic lupus erythematosus are amongst those that are categorized as causing the secondary group of autoimmune blood disorders.

Antiphospholipid syndrome causes an increased clotting ability, and this greatly increases the risk of the affected individual developing a heart attack or a stroke. Patients diagnosed with lupus can present clinically with a combination of neutropenia, anemia and/or thrombocytopenia.

Autoimmune blood disorders versus other autoimmune conditions

Autoimmune blood disorders occur less commonly than other types of autoimmune conditions. The reason for this, as for the reason behind other autoimmune conditions, is not entirely clear.

It is speculated that the reason why autoimmune conditions affecting the blood are less common, is because there are less targets for the antibodies to attack as opposed to the numerous tissues and organs which can be affected elsewhere in the body. This statement though is far from being proved or medically accepted by leading specialists.

Autoimmune blood disorders appearing with other autoimmune condition or not

As has already been mentioned, certain autoimmune blood disorders occur as a secondary cause of other autoimmune conditions. The question here is whether these autoimmune blood disorders are diagnosed in patients with pre-existing autoimmune conditions, or whether these blood disorders occur on their own.

In general, the presence of one autoimmune disease will quite often lead to the discovery of another such condition at some or other point in the person’s life.  However, there is debate amongst doctors and researchers whether these diagnoses are clearly separate diseases, or different manifestations of the same disease process.

It should be noted though that the two main autoimmune blood disorders, autoimmune haemolytic anemia and immune thrombocytopenic purpura, can occur completely on their own without the presence of any other autoimmune conditions.

Author: Sagar

About the Author

- Outside contributors to the Dispatch are always welcome to offer their unique voices, contradictory opinions or presentation of information not included on the site.

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  1. […] cases, the medical practitioners and doctors recommend blood transfusion to patients suffering from autoimmune hemolytic anemia. This blood disorder is definitely a tricky disease to treat because it can root to different […]

  2. […] abstain your body from blood disorders, it is advisable to have a regular intake of iron supplements or multi-vitamins. However, taking up […]

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