There's nothing quite as frightening as being diagnosed with an autoimmune disease.
Suddenly, even the most mundane tasks can seem daunting, and you find yourself asking questions like, “What’s next?” or “How do I manage this?”.
Living with an autoimmune disease like Hashimoto’s or Crohn's can be a daily challenge. Symptoms vary from person to person, but if you suffer from one of these disorders, chances are the body is attacking itself in one form or another.
In this a two-part blog post, we will discuss all about autoimmune diseases: what they are exactly, who gets them, how treatments work and how best to support yourself if you have been diagnosed with one. Read on to learn more about autoimmune disease.
What is an Autoimmune Disease?
Autoimmune disease occurs when the body’s immune system mistakenly attacks healthy cells. The immune system is designed to protect us from infection and disease, but in cases of autoimmune disease, it becomes overactive and mistakes healthy tissues for bacteria or viruses. These diseases can range from mild to severe, with some autoimmune diseases being more common than others. They can affect virtually any organ or tissue in the body, so it's important to be aware of the symptoms and know when you should see a doctor.
Types of Autoimmune Diseases
Rheumatoid arthritis causes your immune system to attack the body's own tissue, resulting in extensive joint damage. In addition to joint pain, it may cause inflammation of internal organs and other parts of the body. Complicating matters even further, symptoms can range from very mild to severe and can come and go over time. Treatment for this autoimmune disease typically includes medications such as corticosteroids and disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs. However, lifestyle changes are also important to minimize symptoms.
Type 1 Diabetes
Type 1 diabetes destroys cells in the pancreas, specifically those that produce insulin. This results in an inability to produce sufficient insulin to control a person’s blood glucose levels. Ultimately, this autoimmune disease can lead to serious health problems if not managed properly.
While this condition can be found in people of all ages, it is most diagnosed in children and young adults. Fortunately, those living with type 1 diabetes have many treatment options at their disposal. Lifestyle changes, medications, and insulin injections are all effective ways to treat diabetes symptoms. With a proper care plan tailored for their specific needs and consistent monitoring of their blood glucose levels, sufferers of type 1 diabetes can lead full and healthy lives.
Celiac disease is caused by an inability to digest gluten and can have serious health implications. It is estimated that 1 in 100 people around the world have the condition and may not even know it because symptoms can range from mild to severe. To diagnose, blood tests and a biopsy of the small intestine are typically performed. In severe cases, left untreated, Celiac disease can lead to malnutrition due to malabsorption, disrupt normal ovarian functioning, cause digestive issues like abdominal bloating or pain, and impact the nervous system. However, it can be successfully managed with dietary changes - eliminating all products containing gluten - as well as vitamin supplements to ensure all nutritional needs are met.
Psoriasis is a chronic skin condition marked by red, itchy, scaly patches. It is caused by an overactive immune system that accelerates the growth cycle of skin cells, causing them to accumulate on the outer layer of the skin before they are ready to be shed. Treatments vary from topical medications to light therapy and systemic drugs; the precise treatment plan depends on severity. Psoriasis can affect anyone regardless of gender or age; those who notice signs should consult with their doctor for a proper diagnosis and treatment regimen. Not only does psoriasis create physical discomfort, but it also raises mental health concerns due to its effect on appearance and stigma in society.
Lupus is a complex, chronic autoimmune disease that causes the body's immune system to attack its own healthy cells and tissues. It can be systemic, meaning it affects many different organs or localized, manifesting as isolated skin lesions. Symptoms of lupus fluctuate in intensity, but they can range from mild to life-threatening and include fatigue, joint pain, fever, anemia, kidney problems and a so-called "butterfly" rash on the face. Diagnosis is often difficult because of the wide variety of symptoms, but medical professionals usually consider family history and lab tests to make a diagnosis. Treatment options typically involve managing symptoms with medications such as anti-inflammatory drugs as well as lifestyle modifications like getting plenty of rest and eating nutritious meals. With proper treatment and management lupus can be manageable and allow sufferers to live fulfilling lives.
Grave's Disease is characterized by hyperthyroidism, or overactive production of thyroid hormones. It typically occurs because of antibodies that stimulate the thyroid gland to overproduce hormones. This can cause a variety of symptoms including heart palpitations, weight loss, anxiety, and disrupted sleep patterns.
Diagnosing Grave's Disease requires blood tests to measure thyroid hormone levels, which are typically higher than normal in affected individuals. Treatment usually consists of antithyroid medications and radiation therapy which reduce hormone levels and reduce symptoms. Grave's Disease is more common among those with a family history of autoimmune diseases, pregnant women, and people between 20-40 years old.
Multiple sclerosis is a lifelong, debilitating condition in which the body's immune system attacks the protective sheath surrounding the nerves. Symptoms of MS can vary from person to person and generally include fatigue, impaired motor skills, difficulty with balance and vision problems. While no cure for Multiple Sclerosis has been developed, there are treatments available that can help to manage symptoms. It's important for anyone experiencing symptoms that could be indicative of MS to consult their doctor as soon as possible.
Sjögren's Syndrome affects the moisture-producing glands of the body. This can lead to dryness of the eyes, mouth, nose, lungs and skin. Other than being generally uncomfortable and having a significant impact on quality of life, this can also lead to secondary issues such as dental cavities, reduced saliva production and difficulty swallowing. Diagnosis is based on a combination of clinical evaluation and lab tests. Treatment involves lifestyle modifications and may include medications such as eye drops or gels for dry eyes, drugs to increase saliva production or therapies to reduce inflammation in other areas of the body such as joints and kidneys. Sjögren’s Syndrome can be a long-term condition but patients who follow recommended treatment regimens usually find that their symptoms become more manageable.
Hashimoto's Thyroiditis affects the thyroid and can cause it to become underactive. Symptoms of Hashimoto's include fatigue, depression, weight gain, hair loss, constipation, joint pain and even infertility. Although this autoimmune disease is incurable, there are many things you can do to manage it effectively including taking daily medications and eating a nutrient-rich diet while avoiding processed foods as much as possible. With support from a great healthcare team, lifestyle changes and evidence-based treatments Hashimoto's can be managed to improve overall health and quality of life.
Join us for part two where we’ll discuss what comes next when it comes to identifying and treating these conditions.