Autoimmune diseases occur when your body’s immune system thinks that healthy cells are foreign cells and attack them in defense.
Autoimmune diseases are usually diagnosed through tests that detect antibodies specific to your own tissues, antinuclear antibodies which attack the nuclei of your own cells, blood count tests that detect red and white blood cells in the body to determine if your immune system is actively fighting something, or C-reactive protein (CRP) tests which detect elevated CRP to determine that there is abnormal inflammation throughout the body.
Autoimmune disease symptoms interrupt the normal function of major systems in the body and tend to have the following symptoms in common:
- Inflammation, especially in joints
- Unexplained muscle pain and weakness
- Skin conditions such as rashes or dryness
- Swelling as a result of inflammation
- Endocrine system problems
- Nervous system problems
6 Autoimmune Diseases
- Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA) – In RA, the immune system attacks the joints, specifically the synovium that creates synovial fluid to lubricate the joint during movement. This creates inflammation that causes the fluid to thicken, resulting in pain and swelling in the joint.
- Systemic Lupus Erythematosus (SLE) – Lupus is a chronic, long-term disease that can affect any part of the body: skin, joints and organs. Around 1.5 million Americans have lupus. Common symptoms are extreme headaches, joint pain, fatigue, fever, anemia and swelling in feet, hands and around the eyes. The most well-known symptom is a butterfly-shaped rash across the cheeks of the face.
- Sjorgen’s Disease – Sjorgen’s is a chronic, inflammatory condition that often mimics other autoimmune diseases with overlapping symptoms. Common symptoms of Sjorgen’s include dry, scratchy eyes and mouth; difficulty swallowing, talking and chewing; dry or cracked tongue; dental decay; and joint pain.
- Multiple Sclerosis (MS) – MS is an autoimmune disease that attacks the central nervous system and destroys the myelin, the fatty substance that protects the nerve fibers, as well as the fibers directly causing scar tissue (sclerosis) – which interferes with the ability of the nerves to function properly.
- Hashimoto’s Disease – Hashimoto’s is a disease where the immune system attacks the thyroid, which can lead to hypothyroidism, interfering with the entire endocrine system. Symptoms include fatigue, weight gain, swelling, muscle and joint pain, depression, hair loss and menstrual difficulties.
- Grave’s Disease – In those with Grave’s Disease, the immune system attacks the thyroid. In turn, this causes an overproduction of thyroid hormones, thus leading to hyperthyroidism. Symptoms include goiter, tremors in the hands, anxiety, weight loss, heat sensitivity, rapid heartbeat and bulging eyes, known as Graves’ ophthalmopathy.
These conditions can be extremely difficult to diagnose as the symptoms are common to so many conditions and diseases. Those who suffer from autoimmune conditions often go through a great deal of testing and many physicians in their search for answers. Often, those around them do not understand their symptoms, making it even more difficult to live with their condition.
It is important for the person dealing with an autoimmune disease to have a strong support system, as living with constant pain, fatigue and other debilitating symptoms can be very disheartening over time.