- Do you suffer from fatigue, joint pain, weight gain, frequent headaches, hair loss, insomnia, or food sensitivities?
Maria had been ignoring these symptoms for years because they seemed minor and not life threatening. She was living life as if she were healthy, ate whatever she wanted, and acted as if she was just like everyone else. As the years passed, she began to feel less energetic and gained weight. She looked older than her real age, suffered from constant joint pain, anxiety, and insomnia. When Maria came to see me, she said that she didn’t recognize herself and wanted to understand what was happening to her.
I ordered blood work and performed adrenal and thyroid energy tests. The results showed that Maria had a chronic autoimmune illness called Hashimoto’s thyroiditis. In addition, she had an overactive adrenal function, which caused her body to produce too much stress hormones – adrenalin and cortisol.
People with the autoimmune disease typically feel very discouraged. For them, undergoing conventional treatments rarely leads to a higher quality of life.
What is Autoimmune Disease?
Autoimmune disease can involve any organ or system in the body: joints, skin, digestive system, hormones, nerves, connective tissues, and muscles. Rheumatoid arthritis affects your joints. With Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, the thyroid is attacked. MS (multiple sclerosis) destroys myelin, the protective layer around your nerves.
While it may seem that these conditions are vastly different, the common theme in all of them is that your immune system gets confused and starts attacking your body. The immune system is designed to protect you from foreign invaders like viruses and bacteria. It creates antibodies that are used to identify and destroy pathogens; enabling you to recover from an illness. With autoimmunity, these antibodies target healthy tissue. This leads to inflammation and cell destruction: like an army aiming its own weapons against itself!
Autoimmune illness often affects multiple organs or systems; which makes it extremely difficult to receive proper treatment. Some autoimmune diseases cause chronic symptoms, while others have little or no disease activity or flare ups. Many autoimmune conditions commonly present with nonspecific symptoms like pain and fatigue. Because these symptoms are not easily identified with a specific condition, diagnosis is troublesome. Symptoms can also vary widely from person to person, making an accurate diagnosis problematic.
The AARDA (American Autoimmune Related Diseases Association) estimates that more than 50 million Americans (roughly 1 in 6) suffer from autoimmune diseases; 75 percent of whom are women. Medical science has identified more than 100 autoimmune diseases, with another 40 suspected to have an autoimmune component. Autoimmune disease is one of the most significant healthcare issues facing our world today.
Types of Autoimmune Diseases
Autoimmune diseases are classified into two groups: organ-specific diseases and non-organ-specific diseases. Hashimoto’s thyroiditis (which affects the thyroid gland) and type 1 diabetes (which affects the pancreas) would be examples of organ-specific diseases. Some non-organ-specific diseases would be rheumatoid arthritis (which affects the joints) and lupus (which affects connective tissue). Organs of the endocrine system (thyroid, pancreas, adrenal glands, etc.) are the most commonly affected. The most commonly affected non-organ tissues are connective tissues: such as blood, muscles, and joints. Many autoimmune diseases commonly coexist with others: for example, celiac disease and Hashimoto’s.
Unfortunately, obtaining a proper diagnosis is often very challenging for those of us suffering from autoimmune diseases. According to the AARDA, those with an autoimmune disease spend an average of 4 years seeking diagnosis; with visits to more than 4 physicians in the process. Some go undiagnosed for years, while others get misdiagnosed with other conditions.
The undiagnosed and misdiagnosed rate for celiac disease can be as high as 83 percent; showing how difficult it truly can be to obtain answers. Autoimmune disease symptoms can be nonspecific, mild, and gradually build over time; making it difficult to determine if you need to see your physician. When you do, you are often told everything is fine and further testing that could uncover early warning signs is not ordered.
One of the biggest issues with the conventional treatment of autoimmune disease is that it’s often misdiagnosed. This leads to people being bounced around between primary care physicians and multiple specialists before getting proper testing and treatment. Many of us who suffer from autoimmune symptoms wonder why we should even bother seeking a diagnosis, especially if our symptoms can be improved just by making dietary and lifestyle changes. However, there are benefits to having a clear diagnosis.
THIS QUIZ will help you become clear about your risk of autoimmune illness. Also given are suggestions about the first steps you can make to start improving the quality of your life.
- “The Autoimmune Wellness Handbook” Trescott, Mickey; Alt, Angie. The Autoimmune Wellness Handbook: A DIY Guide to Living Well with Chronic Illness