In the United States, we are currently experiencing an autoimmune disease epidemic. Here are a couple of statistics to consider:
- Autoimmune disorders have increased by three hundred percent over the last fifty years.
- Autoimmune disorders affect between 50 and 75 million Americans.
- It is the third leading cause of chronic illness (besides heart disease and cancer).
Sometimes, it’s necessary to construct a health article that, on the surface, may seem depressing!
Please understand that we wish to inform all of our readers about the risks of certain diseases; and, more importantly, provide some valuable insight on the prevention and (when possible) treatment of health disorders.
Affirmation for Living With an Autoimmune Disorder
Here’s a beautiful phrase applicable to autoimmune diseases, found on Pinterest:
I fight for my health
Every day in ways
Most People Don’t Understand.
I Am Not Lazy.
I Am A WARRIOR.
What Is an Autoimmune Disorder?
Although there are many types of autoimmune disorders and diseases, they all have one thing in common: an immune system that attacks itself.
The immune system is an intricate structure that has evolved to safeguard our health from foreign substances, e.g., toxins, that we encounter.
When some foreign material, whatever it may be, enters the body, our immune system immediately analyzes it and determines whether it is “friend or foe.” If foe, the immune system will produce antibodies to neutralize them.
Autoimmune disorders develop when the body is trying to fight off an allergen, infection, food, or toxin; and fails to distinguish between the intrusive substance and those naturally produced by the body.
The immune system is no different than most other parts of the body – it can change if exposed to prolonged stress. If this happens, our immune system may begin attacking healthy cells and tissues, triggering specific symptoms.
Twenty Common Signs of a Developing Autoimmune Condition
“I have recently been diagnosed with Sjogren’s Syndrome, an autoimmune disease which is an ongoing medical condition that affects my energy level and causes fatigue and joint pain.” ~ Venus Williams
As autoimmune disorders are wide-ranging in both the number and types of symptoms experienced, we will classify the signs according to body area. In this case, we will list symptoms that affect the adrenal glands, brain, gastrointestinal (GI) tract, joints and muscles, sinus, mouth and lungs, skin, and thyroid gland.
1 – Anxiety: a persistent feeling of worry, nervousness, or unease.
2 – Attention deficit: difficulty sustaining attention, hyperactivity, impulsiveness.
3 – Brain fog: lack of mental clarity and decline in cognitive performance.
4 – Headaches: continuous pain around the head area.
5 – Bloating: swelling of the abdomen by fluid or gas.
6 – Constipation: an inability to pass stool.
7 – Stomach cramping: painful sensations around the abdominal area.
Joints & Muscles:
8 – Muscle Pain and Weakness: general muscle or muscle area pain.
9 – Joint and Muscle Stiffness and Pain: Might indicate fibromyalgia or rheumatoid arthritis.
Sinus, Mouth, & Lungs:
10 – Allergies: response by the body to a substance.
11 – Asthma: a condition marked by spasms in the lungs’ bronchi.
12 – Dry Mouth: reduced production of saliva within the mouth.
13 – Frequent Colds: increased susceptibility (usually, frequency) to colds.
14 – Acne: a condition characterized by red pimples on the face.
15 – Dermatitis: skin that is red, swollen, and sore, sometimes containing small blisters.
16 – Eczema: skin that becomes rough and inflamed, with blisters that cause itching and bleeding.
17 – Psoriasis: a skin disease marked by red, itchy, scaly patches.
18 – Rosacea: enlargement of the facial blood vessels, giving the cheeks and nose a flushed appearance.
Thyroid (besides anxiety and fatigue, mentioned earlier):
19 – General malaise: a general feeling of discomfort, illness, or uneasiness.
20 – Weight fluctuations: rapid weight gain or loss in short periods.
Tips on Reversing Autoimmune Diseases and Disorders
Some estimate that environmental factors contribute about 75% to an immune disorder, while 25% are genetic. The environmental factors are definitively within our control.
Amy Myers, MD, and former Grave’s Disease patient, says:
“Through my experience as a functional medicine physician and working with thousands of autoimmune patients, I have identified five environmental factors that play a key role in the creation of autoimmune diseases:
- Leaky gut
Dr. Myers explains that all of the above factors are a burden on the immune system; and that by addressing them, it is possible to return your immune system to its optimal state.
For example, leaky gut – a condition wherein the digestive tract experiences bloating, cramps, gas, foods sensitivities, aches, and pains – can be helped by consuming more probiotics.
10 Impacts of Living With an Autoimmune Disorder
People who have an autoimmune disorder commonly report the following realities in their lives. To do that, we will expand on some of the most prevalent symptoms above and explain how to deal with them.
Many people say that the first sign of an autoimmune disorder is debilitating fatigue. Fatigue is a common symptom of several different autoimmune diseases–which differs from being tired. It’s overwhelming exhaustion. Researchers aren’t clear why autoimmune diseases cause fatigue, but if you notice, even when you get a good night’s sleep, you feel exhausted. It might be good to get some blood work done to rule out the problem.
2. Gut problems
Some autoimmune disorders affect your digestive system. You may experience diarrhea, gas, cramping, or bloating. If you are experiencing changes like these in your gut, talk with your gastroenterologist. To rule out cancer, they may have you get a colonoscopy, a painless examination of your large and small bowel with a camera on a small tube that’s passed through your anus. If the scope is negative, your doctor may suggest you have an autoimmune condition, such as
- Crohn’s disease
- Ulcerative colitis
- Celiac disease
- Autoimmune hepatitis
Your gastroenterologist may prescribe a diet change or medication to relieve your symptoms.
3. Joint swelling and pain
Painful joints, swelling, and redness can occur if your autoimmune system attacks your joints. Over time, the inflammation from these attacks can cause damage to your bones and cartilage. This makes moving painful and even impossible for some people. Medications can slow down the progression of an autoimmune disorder but not cure it. Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disorder that attacks healthy joint tissues. It can even lead to heart problems.
4. Skin color changes, rash or blistering
Skin problems are another standard indicator of an autoimmune condition. This happens when your immune system attacks your skin. Symptoms may include:
- Loss of pigment
- Red patches
- Purple bumps
Lupus is an autoimmune disorder that affects women more than men. It occurs when your body attacks your organs and tissues, causing inflammation. You can also get skin lesions from sun exposure.
5. Tingling or numbness
Don’t ignore it if you’re experiencing numbness or tingling sensations in your arms or legs. It could be an early sign of multiple sclerosis. This is an autoimmune disorder impact that can lead to death if not treated properly. This disease damages the myelin sheath, the protective layers around the cells of your nervous system. That’s what causes the pain, tingling, and numbness you feel. If you notice these signs, get a checkup right away.
6. Weight Gain or weight loss
If you suddenly gain or lose weight without trying, it could signify you have an autoimmune disorder. Thyroid conditions, which are common autoimmune disorders, could be the culprit of your weight changes. Women are especially at risk for thyroid problems. Other common thyroid signs include:
- Hair loss
- Puffiness in your face
- Hoarse voice
Your doctor will do a blood test to check your thyroid levels are normal. Thyroid autoimmune disorders run in families. If other older family members suffer from this condition, there is a good chance you could too.
7. Nervousness or jittery
If you’re feeling restless and nervous, you may suffer from an autoimmune condition’s early symptoms that affect your thyroid gland. Grave’s disease is when your immune system attacks your thyroid gland. This causes your thyroid to produce too much hormone, making you feel jittery, irritable, and nervous. Your heart may beat too fast, and you feel extremely sensitive to the cold or heat.
8. Recurring fevers
Off and on fevers are common characteristics of an autoimmune disorder. These unexplained, recurrent fevers can hit at random times. Most of the time, the fevers don’t last long, but they will eventually stick around as other symptoms follow. If you experience recurring fevers, talk with your doctor about these symptoms. They will do tests to rule out certain diseases like cancer or infection.
9. Muscle weakness or soreness
Muscle soreness or weakness is joint for those who eventually develop an autoimmune disorder. The soreness may affect different muscles in your body. This soreness may feel like a deep bone type of soreness. These symptoms are hard to distinguish from overexertion or too much gardening after a workout. But if you notice the soreness persists and isn’t connected to physical activity, you may want to get it checked out.
Do you get headaches that tend to linger a long time? Maybe you suffer from migraines on an ongoing basis, but your doctor can’t figure out the cause. They may treat your symptoms but not get to the root cause. Headaches are easily dismissed as stress, allergies, or weather changes. If you notice you’re getting a lot of headaches and your doctor can’t figure out the cause, you may want to see a specialist who deals with autoimmune disorders. They can run tests to eliminate other causes and discern whether you have an autoimmune disease.
Final Thoughts On Understanding the Signs Of An Autoimmune Disorder
Autoimmune disorders are challenging to diagnose. Their symptoms are very similar to so many other illnesses. It may take years before you get a complete diagnosis of your condition. Fortunately, an autoimmune specialist can do blood tests to look for specific blood markers to show you have an autoimmune disorder. This test may not tell you which autoimmune disease since they are similar. Here are some things you can do to help get an accurate diagnosis of an autoimmune disorder
- Please keep track of your symptoms: How long they last and when they occurred. Be sure to share this information with your doctor.
- Learn if certain health conditions run in your family: Many autoimmune disorders are genetic. Learn your family’s health history. Talk to your grandparents, aunts, uncles, and parents. Sometimes people mention a condition you never heard of until you asked.
- See a specialist who deals with your symptoms: See a dermatologist if you’re losing the pigment on your face.