Autoimmune Disease: What are they, symptoms and treatment.
Commonly referenced by those who have autoimmune diseases, these types of diseases are often invisible. Sometimes, when looking at a person, you can often tell if someone is sickly, especially if they are terminally ill. However, with autoimmune diseases, unless asked, you would have the slightest clue if someone has been diagnosed. Symptoms are invisible, and the pain is due to the body attacking an individual.
Starting With the Testimonials
In this article, we are going to arrange it a bit differently this time. You will read two testimonials from real people who have volunteered to share their stories on what it is like living with autoimmune diseases in order to gain perspective before we move on.
Living with Multiple Sclerosis (Commonly known as MS)
“I was pretty active, loved being outdoors, and of course – loved dancing. About a year prior to my diagnosis, I was struggling with: severe migraines, lists of arm/hand numbness (that doctors thought was carpal tunnel), horrible neck and back spasms (they thought it was cervical disc bulges/herniated disc)…”
Closer to my diagnosis, I started to randomly fall. Silly me would think it was either uneven pavement, or my new wedge shoes. Fast forward to December 2015, I woke up with what felt like a pinched nerve, tried to rest and hours later found myself completely numb on my right side. I was weak, with my mouth hanging and no strength in my arm or leg.
I was eventually admitted and diagnosed with RRMS: Relapsing Remittance Multiple Sclerosis. I suffered leak weakness, and still have to walk with a cane to this day. I suffer from moderate sensory issues, especially with cold/heat temps. My cognitive issues have been effected as well. Moderate neuropathic issues. I’m on a concoction of meds to keep my MS a bay.
I’m not exactly the same, physically, or mentally. It’s stressful and has taken a toll on my emotional well being but I’m still fighting and understanding my “new” me.” -J.R*
Living with Rheumatoid Arthritis (Commonly known as RA)
“I was diagnosed with RA, then told I had Fibro (fibromyalgia) seven years ago. I am in pain all the time and cannot sleep much. I look normal and healthy, but dread life daily. I never enjoy what I used to and this makes me very sad. Not an illness for the weak, that’s for sure..” -M.R*
*To protect the identity of these brave individuals, we have agreed to keep the statements anonymous.
What are Autoimmune Diseases?
Autoimmune diseases are diseases that begin to develop when your body’s immune system decides that your healthy cells are somehow foreign. What this ultimately means, is that a person’s immune system begins to attack healthy cells that are needed to keep the body stable.
It is very possible for an individual to have one or more autoimmune diseases happening simultaneously, which, as an overall result, will weaken the body even more. Autoimmune diseases can tamper with body tissue, influence the change in organ functionality, and cause abnormal organ growth.
Autoimmune diseases normally run in the family, which means most individuals with an AD have been inherited. According to the AARDA (American Autoimmune Related Diseases Association), autoimmune diseases affect 50 million Americans, with a very high percentage of those who are affected being women. African Americans, Hispanics/Latino communities, and Native Americans also have an increased risk of developing autoimmune diseases.
Autoimmune Diseases- Symptoms
Here is a list of common symptoms an individual may experience if an autoimmune disease is present:
- Weight loss, insomnia, rapid heartbeat or heat/cold intolerance
- Difficulty focusing or concentrating
- Joint pain, muscle pain, weakness, or tremors
- Feeling tired or fatigued
- Recurrent rashes and sun sensitivity
- Numbness or tingling of the hands or feet
- Hair loss, white patches on your skin or inside the mouth
- Dry eyes, mouth, or skin
- Multiple miscarriages or blood clots
What can make diagnosing a single autoimmune disease difficult, is that many of the autoimmune diseases have similar symptoms. Thus, making it very hard to pinpoint which disease an individual may have concretely.
Types of Autoimmune Diseases
Researchers at the AARDA have identified 80-100 different types of autoimmune diseases. Autoimmune diseases can be chronic and can be extremely life threatening. The types of autoimmune diseases that will be listed in this article will be the top ten most common types. If you are interested in the complete list of autoimmune diseases, you can find them here. The common types of autoimmune diseases are:
- Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) – Causes chronic inflammation of the joints and surrounding tissue. RA can also affect other organs within the body such as skin, blood vessels, eyes, and lungs. People who experience rheumatoid arthritis might also experience fibromyalgia.
- Lupus – Lupus is an inflammatory disease that is caused when the immune system attacks its own tissue. Some famous celebrities that have lupus are Selena Gomez, Nick Cannon, Ian Harding who plays Ezra on Pretty Little Liars, Will Smith, Michael Jackson, and even Beethoven? It hasn’t been confirmed, but it has been speculated.
- Multiple sclerosis (MS) – MS is known as a chronic, progressive disease that eats away and damages the sheaths of nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord. Symptoms include impairment of speech, numbness, fatigue, and blurred vision.
- Hashimoto’s disease – This autoimmune disease causes inflammation and failure of the thyroid gland.
- Celiac disease – A reaction gluten protein, that causes damage to the lining of the small intestine. Gluten is found in rye, barley, and wheat.
- Sjögren’s syndrome – This syndrome is responsible for the degeneration of lachrymal and salivary glands. This would cause dryness in the mouth and eyes in patients diagnosed with the syndrome.
- Type 1 diabetes – This type of autoimmune disease is a chronic condition in which the pancreas produces too much insulin or none at all.
- Grave’s disease – Responsible for protruding eyes, and swelling of the neck due to an overactive thyroid.
- Alopecia areata – A type of hair loss that begins with one or more bald patches that may overlap.
- Psoriasis – This type of skin condition is categorized by redness and itchiness of the skin, that is accompanied with thick and flaky patches.
Autoimmune Diseases and Mental Health
After all, this is a blog dedicated to health, brain, and neuroscience. So, how would this all tie together exactly? Like almost every other chronic health condition that exists (not just autoimmune diseases), comes with consequences. Not only does it strip an individual of a healthy and clean medical record, but it strips individuals of doing things they once loved doing. Autoimmune diseases are notorious for debilitating a person, a simple five-minute walk outside can no longer be seen as enjoyable. In fact, it’s quite daunting, especially if it’s an autoimmune disease that has severe fatigue as a symptom.
Between the constant pain, the elixir of medicines that need to be swallowed or injected, shortened time with an individual’s loved ones because they have to take it easy, not being able to be as active as you once were, and constantly being tired can take a toll on almost anybody. We are now grazing on the territory of depression, and even anxiety.
Imagine a person who hates needles, but has to self-inject with insulin or any type of other medications that corresponds with their condition. This can trigger anxiety attacks and potentially traumatize a person further if they have had past experiences with needles in general. When looking at the symptoms of some conditions like grave’s disease, psoriasis, and alopecia, we see that they are responsible for altering physical appearances. Any physical change that is unwanted can lower the self-esteem of other’s which can also lead to depression.
If you or someone you know suffers from an autoimmune disease, and you see it’s beginning to affect their mental health, it may be helpful to seek help or be as supportive as you can to your friend or family member, and let them know they aren’t alone. Anything as small as offering to pick up a person’s medicine, or assisting with the administration of medicine can be enough to make someone’s day.
Treatment Options for Autoimmune Diseases
Even though there are no known cures for autoimmune disease, there are therapies that can target the organs affected. There are also options to be given medicines that can suppress the immune system. According to the Seattle Cancer Care Alliance, in rare instances, stem cell transplants have been used to lessen the symptoms and slow down the progression of the disease.
Do you have an autoimmune disease? Does someone you know have an autoimmune disease? Let us know in the comments below how you or someone you know copes with the disorder. We’d love to hear what you have to say! 🙂
American Autoimmune Related Diseases Association. (n.d.). Autoimmune disease statistics.
Roddick, J. (n.d.). Autoimmune disease.
Seattle Cancer Care Alliance. (n.d.). Treatment options.
WebMd.Com. (n.d.). What are autoimmune disorders?
Jessica is a New York City native who graduated from undergrad with her B.S in Psychology. While her focus is steadily on trauma, and how it manifests itself in different cultural and religious contexts, she enjoys writings articles about the brain, its functions, and other mental disorders. Jessica enjoys educating those on all things psychology, neuroscience, as well as sharing her experiences. Any questions you have, she encourages you to not withhold them! Start a conversation with her under her blog posts, she will be more than delighted to chat with you!