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Autoimmune Disease: Understanding Symptoms, Risks And Treatment Options

July 12, 2023

7 min read

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Author : United We Care
Autoimmune Disease: Understanding Symptoms, Risks And Treatment Options

Introduction

When Selena Gomez talked about her Lupus and how it has affected her life, she was praised for shedding light on this autoimmune disease. It is no secret that her whole body and, to some extent, her persona have changed with this diagnosis and its treatment. But still, very few people understand what autoimmune diseases are and how they affect your reality when you get diagnosed with them. This article is going to shed light on this topic.

What Is An Autoimmune Disease?

A person’s immune system is their shield from the pathogens of the outer world. As you go through life, you tend to encounter a number of disease-causing bacteria, viruses, or fungi. If you are healthy, your body will be ready for them, and the cells of your immune system will destroy these intruders before they have a chance to affect you. The immune system also helps you heal when you get injured or contract any infection. But in some people, the immune system loses the capacity to determine what is harmful and what is not. The T and B cells in the body become activated without infection and start attacking the body of that person [1]. These disorders are broadly known as Autoimmune Diseases (AD). In the case of Selena Gomez, her immune system attacks the tissues in her body, which causes conditions like inflammation and rashes.

There are somewhere over 100 Autoimmune diseases and they affect around 3-5% of the population. The two most common autoimmune diseases are autoimmune thyroid disease and type 1 diabetes [2]. Some other prevalent ones include [3] [4]:

  • Rheumatoid Arthritis
  • Systemic Lupus Erythematosus (SLE)
  • Multiple Sclerosis (MS)
  • Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis
  • Psoriasis

What Are Some Common Symptoms Of Autoimmune Diseases?

Since there are many types of ADs, there is no specific group of symptoms that we can list out. Symptoms usually depend on the specific condition the person is suffering with. That said, most people with ADs experience some common issues. These include [3] [4]:

What are Some Common Symptoms of Autoimmune Diseases?

  • Fatigue: There is a battle that goes on inside one’s body, and this, as can be expected, leads to exhaustion. Fatigue can range from mild to debilitating and is highly prevalent among autoimmune disease sufferers.
  • Joint pain and muscle weakness: Many people also experience stiffness and swelling in their joints. Muscle weakness and joint pain also follow along.
  • Fever: Any immune reaction comes with inflammation, of which fever is a common symptom. In autoimmune conditions, fever can become a common occurrence because the immune system is acting up.
  • Skin rashes: Skin rashes are also a common feature of ADs. Itchiness and redness or patches form on the person’s skin. This is especially true when the disorder primarily affects the skin.
  • Gastrointestinal problems: People also suffer from problems like abdominal pain, bloating, diarrhea, or constipation in ADs. If the disease itself is affecting the digestive system, such as celiac disease or inflammatory bowel disease, then these issues will be much more pronounced.
  • Inflammation: As we have already mentioned, inflammation is almost the hallmark of autoimmune diseases. It can come up in many ways, such as redness, swelling, pain, fever, etc.

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Who Is At Risk For Autoimmune Diseases?

When talking about autoimmune diseases, one cannot blame one single cause for these conditions. Scientists who study ADs believe that a combination of genetic and environmental factors leads to the development of autoimmune disorders. These include:

  • Genetic Predisposition: There are certain genes that make individuals more susceptible to developing an AD [1] [2] [5]. This makes them hereditary as well. The most commonly identified mutations are those of genes that control the function and production of T and B cells.
  • Environmental Factors: Apart from genes, environmental triggers can also cause these conditions. For instance, infections, exposure to chemicals, tobacco, etc can also trigger autoimmune responses [2] [6].
  • Sex: People who are assigned females at their births are more prone to these conditions. This has led to many people implicating the roles of hormones in the development of autoimmune diseases [4].
  • Chronic Stress: Experiencing prolonged periods of stress can weaken the immune system and raise the chances of developing autoimmune disorders. [7].

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What Are Management And Treatment Options For Autoimmune Diseases?

Unfortunately, there are no known cures for autoimmune diseases. But this does not mean that the person with AD is doomed. In fact, if you suffer from autoimmune disorders, there are a number of options that can help you manage your symptoms. Common treatment approaches include [8] [9]:

What are Management and Treatment Options for Autoimmune Diseases?

  1. Medications: Doctors often prescribe a range of drugs, such as anti-inflammatory drugs or immune-suppressing medications. These medications can help you in reducing the symptoms and slowing down the disease.
  2. Lifestyle Changes: Adopting a healthy lifestyle can help you as well. When you follow a routine which has regular exercise, a balanced diet, and an environment that promotes relaxation or reduces stress, you reduce the chances of flare-ups and promote overall well-being.
  3. Alternative Therapies: Many individuals who have some autoimmune condition often find relief from in complementary therapies such as acupuncture, yoga, and meditation. You can add these therapies in your routine to benefit from them.
  4. Support Groups: Living with ADs is a real struggle. It can affect your overall life and can have a negative impact on your well-being. In such situations, social support from places like support groups can be incredibly beneficial for you.
  5. Counseling: Living with an autoimmune disorder can harm your physical and mental health. Frequent flare-ups and medication can make the you feel hopeless and helpless. Counseling for social and emotional support can be helpful for you in such cases.

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Conclusion

Autoimmune diseases have a significant and, at times, debilitating effects on people who suffer from them. These are a class of disorders where your own body is fighting against you. The result is a poor quality of life and endless challenges. While there is no cure, you can benefit greatly from early diagnosis and proper management.

If you are struggling with an autoimmune disorder and the mental health concerns it brings, you can contact our experts at United We Care. United We Care is a mental wellness platform that can be a valuable resource to support people with autoimmune disorders in their journey toward better mental health.

References

  1. A. Davidson and B. Diamond, “AUTOIMMUNE DISEASES,” The New England Journal of Medicine, 2001. [Online]. Available: http://www.columbia.edu/itc/hs/medical/pathophys/immunology/readings/AutoimmuneDiseases.pdf
  2. L. Wang, F.-S. Wang, and M. E. Gershwin, “Human autoimmune diseases: A comprehensive update,” Journal of Internal Medicine, vol. 278, no. 4, pp. 369–395, 2015. doi:10.1111/joim.12395
  3. “What are common symptoms of autoimmune disease?,” JHM, https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/wellness-and-prevention/what-are-common-symptoms-of-autoimmune-disease (accessed Jun. 30, 2023).
  4. S. Watson, “Autoimmune diseases: Types, symptoms, causes & more,” Healthline, https://www.healthline.com/health/autoimmune-disorders (accessed Jun. 30, 2023).
  5. P. Marrack, J. Kappler, and B. L. Kotzin, “Autoimmune disease: Why and where it occurs,” Nature Medicine, vol. 7, no. 8, pp. 899–905, 2001. doi:10.1038/90935
  6. J.-F. Bach, “Infections and autoimmune diseases,” Journal of Autoimmunity, vol. 25, pp. 74–80, 2005. doi:10.1016/j.jaut.2005.09.024
  7. L. Stojanovich and D. Marisavljevich, “Stress as a trigger of autoimmune disease,” Autoimmunity Reviews, vol. 7, no. 3, pp. 209–213, 2008. doi:10.1016/j.autrev.2007.11.007
  8. C. C. medical professional, “Autoimmune diseases: Causes, symptoms, what is IT & treatment,” Cleveland Clinic, https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/21624-autoimmune-diseases (accessed Jun. 30, 2023).
  9. Department of Health & Human Services, “Autoimmune disorders,” Better Health Channel, https://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/health/conditionsandtreatments/autoimmune-disorders (accessed Jun. 30, 2023).

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Author : United We Care

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