An autoimmune disease occurs when your body’s immune system cannot determine what cells to destroy. Instead of attacking the bad cells that make you sick, your white blood cells attack regular cell tissue that is necessary for your body to function correctly.
This can lead to all manner of illnesses, each one with some unique symptoms. However, many autoimmune diseases present themselves the same way. Things like fevers, swollen glands, fatigue, and joint pain are all common among autoimmune disease symptoms. So, how do you get an autoimmune disease diagnosed?
How To Diagnose An Autoimmune Disease
The initial diagnosis process for autoimmune diseases can take a long time. This is because the main symptoms of these diseases overlap with other illnesses, making it hard to pinpoint the exact illness that needs treatment. A doctor who believes that you have the right autoimmune symptoms will refer you to an autoimmune doctor.
An autoimmune doctor is better qualified to determine the type of disease you may have. They are able to test for specific diseases by using blood markers or by conducting a tissue biopsy. With these results, the autoimmune doctor can prescribe the right treatment for your condition. However, each autoimmune disease targets a different part of the body. With that said, what are the different types of autoimmune diseases?
As mentioned above, autoimmune disease is caused by your immune system attacking healthy cell tissue. In the case of rheumatoid arthritis, the immune system attacks the tissue surrounding your joints, which causes them to swell and makes it painful to move them. However, these are the same symptoms as regular arthritis. How can a doctor tell the difference?
Your body will often display signs of rheumatoid arthritis with warm joints that tend to become stiff. This stiffness is often the worst after a night’s sleep and can cause immense fatigue. Unfortunately, there is no cure for rheumatoid arthritis as yet; however, your autoimmune doctor can provide medication to help deal with the symptoms. Common anti-inflammatory drugs can reduce the swelling around your joints, and steroids can hinder any damage to your joints.
Once again, the true trigger for multiple sclerosis is still unknown. However, this type of autoimmune disease is one of the most severe as your immune system starts to target the cells surrounding the nervous system. Your nervous system is responsible for pain management and reactions. With these impaired, it can be very difficult to function properly. Multiple sclerosis also causes damage to the tissue in the spinal cord and brain.
Early signs of multiple sclerosis include numbness in specific areas, fatigue, dizziness, and a loss of balance. These symptoms then progress into muscle spasms, pain, memory loss, and blindness. It is not an easy thing to live with and doctors have yet to find a cure for multiple sclerosis. What’s more, the symptoms are difficult to cover with medication. Most people with multiple sclerosis are treated with medicine that helps them recover from any severe attacks to reduce the nerve damage done by the disease. However, the true cure for this autoimmune disease comes from adapting to living with it, rather than medication.
IBD stands for inflammatory bowel disease, an autoimmune disease that targets the bowels and intestines. There is some debate as to whether IBD counts as an autoimmune disease or autoinflammatory, as chronic versions of this condition are not caused by the human immune system. However, there is solid evidence that this illness is somewhat linked to other autoimmune disorders.
The most common early symptoms of IBD are abdominal cramps and weight loss. These will quickly be followed by chronic diarrhea and even incontinence in some cases. IBD is one of the easiest autoimmune diseases to diagnose because of how specific its symptoms are. Autoimmune doctors will often opt to treat this disease with anti-inflammatory drugs, but the best way to avoid symptoms is by changing your diet. Some hard-to-process foodstuffs like gluten and sugar should be avoided, as well as alcohol and caffeine.
The overactive part of the immune system attacks the skin cells when it comes to psoriasis. This attack can cause arthritis in some parts of the body but it is mostly identified because it inflames the skin. Most people with this type of autoimmune disease suffer from scaly rashes that are incredibly itchy. It also means that the skin is more susceptible to flaking or peeling.
Another key symptom of psoriasis is fatigue, as it is with most autoimmune diseases. However, fatigue often hits people harder when they suffer from psoriasis. While there are medications that can heal some of the symptoms related to psoriasis, many autoimmune doctors prefer not to prescribe them for long periods due to the severity of the side effects. Instead, they are more likely to try and identify trigger foods and recommend that you take vitamins. Also, avoiding alcohol altogether can prevent severe rash flare-ups.
Systemic Lupus Erythematosus
Often referred to as just lupus, systemic lupus erythematosus is the most severe of all autoimmune diseases. There is no specific pattern with lupus. It causes your immune system to attack the cell tissue in your lungs, kidneys, joints, nerves, and skin. Lupus comes with almost every autoimmune symptom and then some.
It is even harder for doctors to determine whether or not systemic lupus erythematosus is caused by your immune system because there is a separate type of lupus that can be caught elsewhere. The second kind of lupus can be inherited from a parent or manifested after long exposure to UV light. The autoimmune version of lupus can only be diagnosed with a biopsy from an autoimmune doctor and presents many of the same early signs as the regular type of lupus. However, both of these diseases are just as detrimental as each other.
Once again, lupus has no cure. However, doctors will prescribe their patients medication to deal with the pain and try to prevent any long-term damage as best they can.
Type 1 Diabetes
Diabetes is caused by a lack of insulin-producing cells. Therefore, it makes sense that an autoimmune disease can destroy these cells and inadvertently cause type 1 diabetes. Many people that contract diabetes this way often struggle to receive the correct diagnosis, as their condition is exactly the same as regular diabetes. Fortunately, the treatment is the same so there are no long-term effects so long as the patient is medicated properly.
A person with type 1 diabetes must receive regular insulin injections to replace what their body cannot produce. These injections will lose their effectiveness over time if the disease is autoimmune related, which is how many of these cases can be diagnosed. There is no cure, but doctors will monitor patients to ensure that their autoimmune disease does not manifest in other harmful ways. If this is not the case, then it is easily manageable.
Autoimmune diseases are nothing to fear. Modern medicine has progressed to a point where doctors can manage the illness enough to give the patient a comfortable life. While there is no cure, you never know what is waiting around the corner. Hopefully, this article has given you a comprehensive look into autoimmune diseases so that you now have a better understanding of each illness.