Normal body conditions allow the immune system to produce antibodies which protect the cells and fight against any foreign substance which may affect the cells. Antibodies recognize and destroy the foreign substances, however, an autoantibody indentifies the body’s own proteins or tissues as foreign, dangerous, or as pathogens, so it begins to destroy and damage them. Thus, an autoantibody is an immune protein that works against the body.
Autoantibodies cause a variety of autoimmune diseases. The autoantibodies can specifically target a single organ or gland or be widespread through out the body, attacking multiple organs. Examples of conditions caused by autoantibodies include Graves’ disease which attacks the thyroid gland, rheumatoid arthritis which inflames the joints, and lupuserythematosus which attacks any or many organs such as the kidneys, heart or even the blood.
It is yet to be understood how and why autoantibodies are produced. Sometimes there is an underlying genetic predisposition to autoimmune diseases, or an environmental triggering event from either toxin exposure or a viral infection. Autoimmune diseases also have a high incidence rate in women during their child bearing years, this may point towards a hormonal component in the autoantibody production trigger.
Autoimmune disease tend to be cyclic, falling into remission for years and then suddenly flaring up. This cyclic tendency suggests that the body can turn the autoantibody production on and off, but it is not known where and how this occurs. When this is found out, then a cure for autoimmune disease will possibly be found too.