Organ-specific and systemic autoimmune diseases

Autoimmune diseases can be divided into two groups: organ-specific diseases and systemic diseases.

Organ-specific diseases include diseases such as Hashimoto's thyroiditis or celiac disease where specific organs, in the case of celiac diseases it is the lining of the small intestine, are attacked by the immune system.

Systemic diseases can affect any part of the body and several systems at once, including multiple organs. Diseases such as systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) and rheumatoid arthritis belong to the group of systemic diseases.

The distribution of the auto-antigen largely determines the manifestations of the disease.


Clustering of autoimmune diseases  

In non-organ-specific autoimmune diseases there is often an overlap of autoantibody profiles and clinical features in the same individual. Thus a patient may present with some features of SLE and some features of scleroderma and is said to have an "overlap syndrome".

It is also possible for the same individual to have two quite different autoimmune diseases (e.g. thyroid disease and rheumatoid arthritis) simultaneously. This happens far more frequently than one would expect by chance.

Similarily, there may be clustering of autoimmune diseases within the same family. This phenomenon can partwise be explained by the underlying genetic basis of these diseases but this does not account for one sister in a sibship developing pernicious anemia while another develops Hashimoto's thyroiditis.

For detailed description of individual autoimmune diseases we refer to specialist books. A small selection is listed below.

Further specialist books:

  • Rose NR, Mackay IR (1998) The autoimmune diseases, 3rd edition. Academic Press, San Diego, CA, USA
  • Ollier W, Symmons DPM (1992) Autoimmunity. BIOS Scientific Publishers Limited, Oxford, Great Britain
  • Stites DP, Terr AI, Parslow TG (1997) Medical Immunology, 9th edition. Appleton & Lange, Stamford, CT, USA


As in all diagnostic testing, the diagnosis is made by the physican based on both test results and the patient history.