Is diabetes an autoimmune disease? Let’s find out!

Is diabetes an autoimmune disease? Diabetes is a metabolic disorder (metabolism means the processes by which our body uses digested food to grow and obtain energy). Most of the foods we are eating are broken down into glucose. This is the form that sugar appears in the blood.

Glucose is the main source of fuel for the body. After digestion, glucose passes into the bloodstream.

In the bloodstream, it is being used by cells for growth and energy. The pancreas, which is a large gland behind the stomach, produces insulin. Insulin is a hormone that facilitates glucose to enter the cells.

When we eat, the pancreas automatically produces enough insulin to move glucose into our bloodstreams and inside of cells.

However, in people who suffer from diabetes either there is too little or no production at all. Consequently leaving them with inadequate levels of response when faced with an increased demand for energy like during exercise where human beings typically use up about 20-25% more calories than they consume on average per day (depending upon factors such as gender).

Because of that, the body loses its main source of fuel, even if the blood contains large amounts of sugar.

Autoimmune diseases lead to certain diseases or conditions that occur when healthy tissue (healthy cells) is destroyed by the body’s immune system.

The term autoimmune disease is familiar to people with type 1 diabetes.

In people with type 1 diabetes, the immune system confuses healthy cells in the pancreas with foreign ones, dangerous invaders, and attacks them. As a result, the body can no longer produce its insulin and can no longer control its blood sugar.

There are more than 80 different types of autoimmune diseases, from multiple sclerosis and type 1 diabetes to celiac disease and rheumatoid arthritis.

In autoimmune diseases, the immune system acts incorrectly without realizing it. The body’s immune system has the role of protecting the body from dangerous substances produced by bacteria, viruses, and toxins.

All of these attacks produce dangerous antigens. To cope with attacks, the immune system produces and sends antibodies (special proteins) to identify and destroy antigens. However, in some cases, such as autoimmune diseases, the immune system cannot tell the difference between healthy tissue and antigens. In conclusion, the immune system attacks and destroys normal tissue (in people with diabetes, the cells that are wrongly attacked are beta cells that make insulin in the pancreas).

This autoimmune reaction (or attack) triggers autoimmune diseases.


Autoimmune diseases are not very well clear to everyone. The exact cause of autoimmune diseases is not known, although there are many theories about what causes this dysfunction. This includes bacteria or viruses, drugs, chemical irritants, and environmental factors.

Studies have shown that autoimmune diseases are often inherited and are much more common in women.


Because healthy tissue is destroyed, an autoimmune reaction can also affect the function of an organ or lead to abnormal growth of that organ. Areas of the body frequently affected by autoimmune diseases, in addition to the pancreas, include:

  • blood vessels
  • connective tissue
  • wrists
  • muscles
  • red blood cells
  • skin
  • thyroid

Several areas of the body can be affected at the same time. Therefore this is why some people can suffer from several autoimmune diseases at the same time.


There are more than 100 autoimmune diseases, the most common include:

  • Addison’s disease – The immune system attacks the adrenal gland, affecting the production of steroid hormones: aldosterone and cortisone.
  • Celiac disease – the attack of the autoimmune system on the substances found in gluten, which destroys the surface of the small intestine. Because of this, the intestinal mucosa can no longer extract essential nutrients from food.
  • Graves’ disease – the thyroid gland suffers from an attack by the immune system. This leads to an overproduction of thyroid hormones (hyperthyroidism).
  • Hashimoto’s thyroiditis or Hashimoto’s disease – as in Graves’ disease, the autoimmune system attacks the thyroid gland, only this time the result is a thyroid gland that can no longer produce thyroid hormones (hypothyroidism).
  • Multiple sclerosis – the myelin sheath is protecting the nerve fibers that carry the message from the brain suffers an attack by the immune system. This is leaving scars behind and the scars give rise to sclerosis.
  • Reactive arthritis – the immune system is fooled to consider that previous infections are still present, so it attacks healthy tissue, inflaming it.
  • Rheumatoid arthritis – the cells lining the joints are the target of the autoimmune reaction. The joints and the surrounding tissue become swollen, stiff, and painful.
  • Systemic lupus erythematosus – the immune system attacks healthy tissue, causes inflammation of the skin and wrists, and can affect internal organs.
  • Type 1 diabetes – the immune system destroys the cells in the pancreas that produce the hormone that regulates blood sugar: insulin.


Autoimmune diseases have different symptoms depending on the type of disease, but common indicators are fatigue, fever; general discomfort; joint pain; skin irritations.

Symptoms worsen during acute periods and decrease during remissions. The most common and noticeable signs of type 1 diabetes are:

  • increased thirst (polydipsia);
  • frequent urination (polyuria);
  • extreme fatigue;
  • sudden and unexplained weight loss.


The diagnosis of the autoimmune disease involves identifying the antibodies that the body produces and releases to attack healthy tissue. The tests required for this include:

  • Antinuclear antibodies – tests that look for antibodies that attack the nucleus of cells in the body.
  • Auto-antibodies – tests looking for specialised antibodies for each tissue.
  • Complete blood count – a test that measures the number of red and white blood cells.
  • C-reactive protein – analysis that measures the level of inflammation in the body.
  • Erythrocyte sedimentation rate – a test that indirectly measures the level of inflammation in the body.
  • Urine testing – a test that examines the appearance, concentration, and content of urine.


Since there is no targeted treatment for autoimmune diseases, there are several general treatment methods and they depend on the type of disease.

These treatments aim to control the disease and alleviate the symptoms, especially in acute periods, they do not cure the disease, because autoimmune diseases have no cure.

Here are some of the measures that help in autoimmune diseases:

  • adopting a healthy lifestyle
  • a healthy diet
  • regular exercise
  • stress reduction
  • rest
  • prescribed medication: these include painkillers, anti-inflammatory drugs (if it affects the joints) and immunosuppressive medicines
  • avoidance of any cause of exacerbation
  • physiotherapy
  • hormone administration, if necessary
  • blood transfusions – if it affects the blood.


Unfortunately, there is no method to prevent autoimmune diseases and here we include type 1 diabetes.

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