Autoimmune diseases are more common than you might have guessed. Did you know that conditions like diabetes, Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, rheumatoid arthritis and Psoriasis are all examples of autoimmune diseases? Yes, they are prevalent. It’s just that people don’t know they are classified as autoimmune disease. If not treated in time or not managed properly, they can cause a lot of damage to the body or even become life threatening.
The question is, what are they? How do autoimmune diseases occur? What are the signs and symptoms? And how can you manage their symptoms? Here you will find all the right answers.
What are Autoimmune Diseases?
Autoimmune, as the name suggests, is related to the immune system of the body. The immune system is responsible for the protection of a body from all foreign invasions. When a person acquires an autoimmune condition, the immune system thinks it is at war with healthy cells, starts attacking and destroying them. This means that your perfectly healthy organs and systems get inflamed or sometimes damaged beyond repair. Currently, there are more than 80 known autoimmune diseases.
How does this happen?
As mentioned above, the white blood cells or the immune system is meant to protect the body from anything that might cause harm. This includes bacteria, viruses, cancerous cells, toxins and agents introduced in the body that are foreign. With the acquisition of an autoimmune disease, the immune system fails to distinguish between the good cells and the bad cells. Hence, the healthy cells start getting damaged too.
Research has still not been able to answer why the immune system suddenly goes haywire. Some theories suggest, this happens due to a trigger induced by certain bacteria, virus, or drugs. Chances of having an autoimmune disease increase when you have the problem in the family. There is a genetic basis to the process that occurs.
So what happens when the autoimmune disease strikes? There is massive destruction to healthy tissues. The destruction can either be targeted to one organ only or can be general. Sometimes, there is also abnormal growth of an organ and the functionality of the organs are changes. Autoimmune diseases mostly target organs such as;
- Endocrine glands like the pancreas or thyroid gland
- Blood vessels
- Red blood cells
- Connective tissues
Most people who develop one autoimmune disease, end up acquiring more. Like people with Hashimoto’s are at the risk of developing diabetes and rheumatoid arthritis. Even though both men and women can have autoimmune diseases, studies show than around 6.4% women have autoimmune diseases as compared to 2.7% of men. Women who are at risk the most are the ones in childbearing age, from 14-44.
Studies also show that autoimmune diseases like lupus and MS run in families and chances of having it are high if someone in your family had it. Likewise, some autoimmune diseases are more common among certain ethnicities. For instance, lupus occurs mostly among Hispanic and African-Americans.
Signs and Symptoms
Even though specific signs and symptoms of various autoimmune diseases are different, there are some similar signs that can give you a hint of the rising problem. If you feel that you have been experiencing them, you need to see a doctor and get tested for autoimmune diseases. These signs and symptoms include:
- Low grade fever
- Unexplainable exhaustion
- Foggy brain or difficulty in concentrating
- Hair loss
- Feelings of numbness or tingling sensations
- Sensitivity to cold
- Muscular pain
Most Common Autoimmune Diseases
Some of the most commonly occurring autoimmune diseases are:
A kind of arthritis that can start as early as in your 30’s, rheumatoid arthritis is when the immune system starts attacking joints. It makes them stiff, red, sore and warm.
An autoimmune disease that damages the protective layer of fat around nerve cells, the myelin sheath. This in turn disrupts the communication between the mind and the body and hence results in balance problems, numbness, walking issues and weakness. It causes more than 50% of the people to lose their ability to walk within 15 years.
Diabetes Type I
In this kind of diabetes the immune system starts destroying insulin producing cells in the pancreas. This results in low levels of insulin which in turn damage the blood vessels, kidneys, nerves, heart and eyes.
A skin condition where the immune system causes the normal skin cells to start multiplying abnormally causing red and scaly patches or plaques. Some people also get joint pain, swelling and stiffness due to this issue. That condition is known as psoriatic arthritis.
Systemic lupus erythematosus
Previously believed to be a skin condition, lupus does not only produce a rash on the skin but also cause damage to heart, joints, brain and kidneys. This condition causes fatigue, rashes on the skin and point pain.
A thyroid issue where the production of thyroid hormone slows down. It causes rapid weight gain, hair loss, increased sensitivity to cold, swelling of the thyroid gland and hypothyroidism.
Other common autoimmune diseases include:
- Celiac disease
- Sjogren’s syndrome
- Pernicious anemia
- Myasthenia gravis
- Inflammatory bowel disease
- Graves’ disease
- Addison’s disease
If you have been feeling unexplained symptoms that persist or keep coming back, then chances are you may be suffering from some kind of autoimmune disease. The sooner you see a doctor, the more quickly you can have your treatment begun. The first test that doctors usually give is an antinuclear antibody test, which confirms whether or not you have an autoimmune disease. Once that is out of the way, you are further tested to find out which exactly you may be suffering from. Please take notice that often times blood work does not correlate with how you feel. Many people are told that their blood work is “normal” even though they feel anything but normal.
Autoimmune diseases are not curable. What can be done is that their symptoms can be managed. The key is to identify the trigger to why the immune system is attacking normal healthy tissue.
Doctors also suggest that you eat a nutritious diet and exercise well in order to keep the body functioning in a normal fashion. You are not a lost cause. Get help and manage your symptoms to lead a healthy life. Feel free to call Health Solutions Plus and see if you are a candidate for The DNA Uprint.