In general, autoimmune diseases tend to arrive unpredictably, disguised as other conditions, offering only confusing clues as to what they are.
Why Are Autoimmune Diseases So Mysterious?
One reason is that the list of what’s considered to be autoimmune is long and ranges from the very common to the extremely rare.
Did you know? The following are all autoimmune diseases:
- Celiac disease
- Diabetes type 1
- Multiple sclerosis (MS)
- Inflammatory bowel disease
While very different, all these disorders have one thing in common: they occur when a person’s immune system decides to attack healthy body cells. Instead of fighting infection with antibodies, the body produces autoantibodies. The body is essentially fighting itself.
Where and how this self-attack occurs determines the disease and its symptoms. But the occurrence of these symptoms is not simple, clear or predictable. Other situations make diagnosis problematic.
Asymptomatic or Delayed Symptoms
You can have osteoporosis, for example, and have no symptoms at all — only getting diagnosed after a bone fracture. Or with ankylosing spondylitis, the average diagnosis time frame is 10 years — about how long it takes for the condition to be visible on an X-ray.
Or you could have severe joint pain as a result of any number of autoimmune diseases, but lack any other symptoms to help doctors determine exactly which one you have. Vasculitis, for instance, is systemic, which means, along with causing inflammation of blood vessels, it can cause pain anywhere and everywhere in your body.
Your celiac disease or Grave’s disease could lead to or just show up with rheumatoid arthritis; having both means one condition can mask the other.
You might be in pain and avoid seeing a doctor. People ignore their pain, thinking they are too young to have arthritis, which isn’t true. It can happen to kids. Rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis are two different things.
Dozens of diseases can look like MS, for instance, from lupus to other neurological conditions. And it takes time to rule out.
Lupus in one person can show up with a set of symptoms completely different than the ones that show up in another person. Doctors can’t rely on symptoms alone to determine the nature of the affecting disease.
Diagnosing Autoimmune Disease
Varied, numerous and inherently elusive, the diagnosis of autoimmune disease can be tough work.
So how does one diagnose if you can’t count on symptoms entirely?
Myth vs. Fact: Celiac Disease
The proliferation of gluten-free options at restaurants and grocery stores might look like just another trend. But celiac disease is a serious autoimmune disease. And though sometimes treated as such, it is not an allergy one can grow out of or ignore. If a person with celiac disease ingests gluten, she can trigger a number of symptoms, not all stomach-related; over time, eating gluten can give rise to more autoimmune diseases.
Diagnostic tests include, but are not limited to:
- Antinuclear antibody (ANA) test—the presence of autoantibodies does not automatically mean you have an autoimmune disease, but a high level can indicate lupus, scleroderma, juvenile arthritis, others
- Comprehensive metabolic panel
- Tests associated with inflammation and arthritis
Flares & Triggers: Autoimmune Disease
While an ultimate cause for autoimmune disease remains unknown, research has shown that:
- People can have a genetic propensity for an autoimmune disease
- A trigger can activate or turn on the gene
- Suspected triggers include environmental, chemical, sunlight, stress, drugs and infection factors
- These triggers can cause a disease to “flare” up
- These disorders can appear at any and all ages, making it difficult to pinpoint exact causes
Specific research has shown that tobacco use can turn on these genes, and gum disease can turn on rheumatoid arthritis genes. But as with most aspects of autoimmune disease, these are hints, not answers.
No Quick Fixes: Treatments And Hope
There are no known cures for autoimmune diseases. Rheumatologists look to medications, supplements and physical therapy for the relief of symptoms and suppression of the immune system.
A Healthy Diet
While there aren’t published studies showing that diet benefits autoimmune diseases, she does see that diets can affect individuals, some of whom find that removing gluten, dairy, meat, sugars, fats and artificial ingredients help.
Do You Have an Autoimmune Disease?
Our physicians will perform a comprehensive evaluation of your condition in order to determine which treatment might be best for you. They will explain your options so that you can make a decision you’re most comfortable with.
If you have any questions or would like to schedule a consultation, call our friendly staff today at (520) 396-4866 or fill out our online request form. We look forward to being your healthcare partner.Leave a reply