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Autoimmune diseases occur when the immune system
mistakes its own tissues as foreign and mounts an inappropriate attack
on the body. Overblown inflammation is a common thread in these chronic
conditions. Examples include multiple sclerosis, type 1 diabetes, Crohn's
disease, lupus, and rheumatoid arthritis.
Multiple sclerosis, the most common nerve disease in young adults,
is a chronic inflammatory disorder of the nervous system that is believed
to be due to a misguided autoimmune attack on myelin, a protective coating
on nerve cells. In multiple sclerosis, myelin is slowly eroded by the body's
immune system, leading to problems with muscle coordination (because
muscles require the action of nerves) and vision. As the disease progresses,
for some reason inflammation decreases, but lasting damage has already
been done to body tissues. Researchers suspect that the autoimmune trigger
in multiple sclerosis may be infection by a virus or other microorganism,
but this has not been proven beyond doubt.