There are more than 100 different types of autoimmune diseases and according to John Hopkins Medicine, an estimated 23.5 million Americans have one. “Any disease caused by a person’s immunity attacking healthy cells and tissues is an autoimmune disease. The immune system is our personal army, its job is to keep out invaders. If the army starts attacking its own, we end up to suffer the consequences of this disaster.” Dr. Suman Radhakrishna, the Director of Infectious Diseases with Dignity Healthy California Hospital tells us. Autoimmune diseases can often be difficult to diagnose because symptoms are subtle and easily overlooked or ignored, but knowing the signs to look out for is key to getting a faster diagnosis and getting treatment. Dr. Radhakrishna shares with us messages to pay attention to and who is at risk of an autoimmune disease. Read on—and to ensure your health and the health of others, don’t miss them Sure signs you already had COVID.
Autoimmune diseases can be difficult to diagnose
Dr. Radhakrishna says, “Our immune system is part of us, apart from many abnormal/rogue cells that can be found in healthy asymptomatic individuals. The symptoms of autoimmune diseases can be very non-specific and can occur for many reasons, not all of which indicate disease. The diagnosis is based on the presence of many of these abnormal immune cells in the context of symptoms suggestive of autoimmune diseases. Sometimes the symptoms of autoimmune disease can be vague. Suffering with no visible end is frustrating and lack of validation often results in the false impression that this is a mental health issue. People with crippling disease and multiple organ damage feel trapped in their bodies. In addition to physical limitations, these illnesses also take a mental toll. Autoimmune diseases they also increase the risk of heart disease, stroke isodium, kidney disease, lung disease and cancer. Regular follow-up with your health care provider and with specialists when needed will prevent complications from developing.”
Who is at risk for autoimmune disease?
Dr. Radhakrishna explains, “Some of the risk factors for autoimmune diseases include female gender (~80% in women), genetics (other family members are more likely to have autoimmune diseases), previous diagnosis of autoimmune disease (lupus, rheumatoid arthritis and others can be overloaded), certain infections (Epstein Barr virus, COVID, group A strep infection), obesity, smoking and exposure to toxins (air pollutants, organic solvents), medications (certain blood pressure medications, for cholesterol, antidepressants, etc.).
How can an autoimmune affect daily life and overall health
“Yes, autoimmune disease can affect both quality of health and overall health,” states Dr. Radhakrishna. “Pain, fatigue, loss of appetite, nausea and vomiting, and fever can cause a person to feel exhausted and unable to work and continue their daily activities. Irreversible damage to organs such as joints, kidneys and the brain can leave a person disabled and on dialysis.”
Dr. Radhakrishna says, “Fatigue – this is almost universal and very frustrating for patients and doctors. This symptom is very difficult to quantify and there are many causes of fatigue that are not attributed to autoimmune diseases. Lack of sleep, stress – physical and H mental fatigue is commonly experienced by all of us and usually improves after the stressor is removed and the sleep deficit corrected. However, if fatigue persists in the context of other symptoms, it is best to discuss this with your healthcare provider.”
Joint Pain and Swelling
“Joint pain and swelling, often felt in the hands and large joints, may indicate an autoimmune disease,” explains Dr. Radhakrishna. “Stiffness in the morning that improves during the day is also common. Difficulty holding a toothbrush and brushing hair is unusual. Consult your doctor. Early diagnosis and treatment can prevent crippling arthritis and preserve quality of life.”
Dr. Radhakrishna shares, “Skin rash – It can be limited to sun-exposed areas or the entire body. It can be scaly that looks like psoriasis, intermittent or constant. If you notice a rash that comes back or persists, discuss it with your doctor supplier.”
According to Dr. Radhakrishna, “Abdominal pain and digestive problems such as diarrhea and constipation, nausea, vomiting and loss of appetite can be quite common due to inflammation of the gastrointestinal tract. Weight fluctuation can be a consequence of this.”
Fever and Swollen Glands
Dr. Radhakrishna tells us, “Intermittent fevers and swollen glands are common. Again, these symptoms are non-specific and can be seen frequently. Talk to your healthcare provider if these recur.”