Studies suggest that autoimmune disorders are increasingly common in the United States and elsewhere. Sadly, many are not aware of the potential threat of autoimmune dysfunction or the significant impact it has on individual wellness. Having a strong understanding of the basic characteristics of autoimmune disease may provide you with the information you need to better identify autoimmune dysfunction in yourself and others.
How Does the Immune System Work?
Your immune system is an impressive collection of tissues and cells whose job is to protect you from infections and harmful substances. The immune system defends against many pathogens including bacteria, viruses, parasites, toxins, and much more. Normally, when the immune system encounters something that could be potentially harmful, it mounts a defense to destroy or eliminate the threat. However, immune malfunction can disrupt or significantly alter this kind of healthy response.
For several reasons — many of which are not yet understood — the immune system may malfunction and become confused. This can cause the immune system inappropriately targeting the body’s own cells and tissues. This is followed by the release of antibodies crafted specifically to eliminate the perceived threat. Such an immune response can cause inflammation and permanent damage to organs, glands, and other tissues. This irregular immune activity is most often the result of autoimmune disease.
The Basics of Autoimmune Disease
According to the American Autoimmune Related Diseases Association (AARDA), 50 million Americans — 20 percent of the population, or one in five people — suffer from autoimmune diseases. These issues predominantly affect women, who account for about 75 percent of all cases of autoimmune diseases. Among women, autoimmune disease appears to develop most frequently during the following times:
- After starting birth control or hormone replacement therapy
- During periods of significant hormonal change such as perimenopause
- After periods of high emotional or physical stress
- Following childbirth
Along with these factors of autoimmune illness, underlying infection, family history, and preexisting immune issues may also influence the occurrence of autoimmune disease.
- Recent research suggests that chronic infections and viruses may notably increase the occurrence of autoimmune disease. Other studies show that treating underlying infections may even help resolve autoimmune malfunction.
- Over several years of data collection, it has been shown that if a close family member has an autoimmune disease, an individual’s risk of developing an autoimmune disease — not just the same condition that the family member has — is also somewhat increased.
- Studies show that those who already have an autoimmune condition are more likely to develop additional immune disorders. It is common for patients with autoimmune disease to be diagnosed with multiple conditions.
The Many Forms of Autoimmune Disease
There are many types of autoimmune disease, all of which have a different impact on the body. In the United States, the most common autoimmune diseases are the thyroid conditions, Hashimoto’s thyroiditis and Graves’ disease. Other common autoimmune diseases include:
- Addison’s Disease
- Celiac Disease
- Crohn’s Disease
- Cushing’s Disease
- Multiple Sclerosis
- Rheumatoid Arthritis
- Sjogren’s Syndrome
- Systemic Lupus Erythematosus (SLE)
- Type 1 Diabetes
Although not officially classified as autoimmune conditions, some practitioners consider chronic fatigue syndrome and fibromyalgia to be autoimmune. This is because they resemble and contribute to immune dysfunction and frequently develop alongside other autoimmune conditions.
Symptoms of Autoimmune Disease
There are hundreds of symptoms associated with autoimmune disease. Because they share many of these symptoms, it’s difficult to accurately identify the specific cause. However, being familiar with the general signs of autoimmune disease can help you better identify issues in yourself and others that may allow for a quicker response. Some of the most common symptoms of autoimmune disease include:
- Chronic low-grade fever of unknown origin
- Concentration and memory problems
- Dry eyes
- Dry mouth
- Frequent rashes of unknown origin
- Hair loss
- Heart palpitations
- Mood changes, unexplained depression
- Numbness and tingling in the hands and feet
- Recurrent miscarriage
- Regular fatigue, debilitating fatigue
- Shortness of breath
- Unexplained weight changes
If you have any of above symptoms, be sure to talk to your physician about the possibility of autoimmune disease.
Identifying and Addressing Autoimmune Disease
Autoimmune disease affects much of our population. Unfortunately, because of poor awareness and a lack of familiarity, many cannot recognize the signs and symptoms of this highly damaging form of dysfunction. After reading this post you should have a basic understanding of what an autoimmune condition is, possible contributing factors, and symptoms that may show autoimmune dysfunction. Help protect yourself and others by raising awareness of autoimmune disease!
At Holtorf Medical Group, we train our physicians to provide you with cutting-edge testing and innovative treatments to find the answers you deserve and a treatment plan that is personalized to your specific condition. If you’ve been diagnosed with an autoimmune disease but aren’t receiving the care and treatment you need, call us at 877-508-1177 to see how we can help you!
1. Scott M. Hayter, Matthew C.Cook. “Updated assessment of the prevalence, spectrum and case definition of autoimmune disease.” Autoimmunity Reviews. Volume 11, Issue 10, August 2012, Pages 754-765.
2. AARD. “Autoimmune Disease Information.” American Autoimmune Related Diseases Association.