Healthy Living

What is an Autoimmune Disease?

An autoimmune disease causes your immune system to mistakenly identify your body’s own healthy cells as invaders. It repeatedly attacks and damages these healthy cells when triggered.

This causes pain, stress, fatigue, and chronic poor health.

These non-contagious, chronic diseases have no cure. However, with proper treatment, they can become manageable. Depending on the disease this may include a combination of dietary and lifestyle approaches, and possibly medication.

The cause of autoimmune diseases remains unknown. Environmental factors like infections and exposure to chemicals or solvents are suspected to play a role.

Doctors also do not know what triggers the immune system misfiring in most autoimmune diseases. Celiac disease is the exception – gluten is the trigger.

Symptoms of Autoimmune Disease

The classic sign of an autoimmune disease is inflammation. The specific symptoms you experience depend on what parts of the body are targeted by your particular disease. 

Autoimmune diseases can affect almost any part of the body.

Your heart, brain, nerves, muscles, skin, eyes, joints, lungs, kidneys, glands, digestive tract, and blood vessels may become damaged by autoimmune diseases. This affects their health and ability to function effectively.

There are more than 80 types of autoimmune diseases.

An additional 40 illnesses are suspected to have an autoimmune component. Each may come with a wide variety of symptoms that may overlap different conditions.

14 of the Most Prevalent Autoimmune Diseases:

  1. Type 1 diabetes
  2. Celiac disease 
  3. Rheumatoid arthritis (RA)
  4. Juvenile Rheumatoid Arthritis (JIA)
  5. Psoriasis / psoriatic arthritis
  6. Multiple sclerosis
  7. Systemic lupus erythematosus (Lupus)
  8. Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD- Crohn’s disease or Ulcerative colitis)
  9. Addison’s disease
  10. Autoimmune thyroid disease (AITD- Hashimoto’s thyroiditis or Graves’ disease)
  11. Sjögren’s syndrome
  12. Myasthenia gravis 
  13. Autoimmune vasculitis
  14. Pernicious anemia

(These diseases are not listed in order of prevalence as that is constantly evolving.)

What is celiac disease?

Autoimmune diseases are common.

According to the National Institutes of Health, over 24 million Americans suffer from an autoimmune disease. This is more than 7% of the US population!

Unfortunately, the prevalence is rising.

Autoimmunity is the underlying cause of more than 100 serious, chronic illnesses. As a result, they have become a leading cause of death and disability in America.

Yet, getting an accurate diagnosis is often difficult. It takes most autoimmune patients up to 4.6 years and nearly 5 doctors before receiving a proper autoimmune disease diagnosis. 

Who’s at risk?

Some autoimmune diseases run in families. Others are more prevalent in certain ethnic groups.

Anyone can develop an autoimmune disease. However, women are far more likely than men to develop one or more autoimmune diseases.

In fact, 75% of people who suffer from autoimmune diseases are women. While autoimmune diseases may start at any age, they often present during their childbearing years.

Childbearing years vary from woman-to-woman but are generally defined as between 15-44 years of age. 

Once you have one autoimmune disease your risk of developing another one increases.

For example, the most common autoimmune disorders associated with celiac disease are autoimmune thyroid disease (Hashimoto’s or Graves’) and Type 1 Diabetes.

No one wants to receive an autoimmune diagnosis. However, the sooner you receive your diagnosis and begin treatment, the less likely it is that you will develop another autoimmune condition.

Can Changing My Diet Help?

Our digestive tract, often called the gut, houses approximately 70% of our immune system. Even though they may seem unrelated, many autoimmune conditions appear to start in the gut. This is true for many other common health problems too. Allergies, arthritis, mood disorders, and more may be the result of gut health problems.

We can support our digestive and immune health through a healthy diet and lifestyle. Effective stress management may also prevent the development of autoimmune diseases.

Additionally, the symptoms from many autoimmune disorders may be improved through diet changes. Eliminating gluten and other highly inflammatory foods from your diet can be beneficial. This applies even if you do not have celiac disease.

Is gluten free another fad diet?

An anti-inflammatory diet and stress-reducing lifestyle may assist in symptom relief. Schedule a Consultation to learn more.

“I wanted to take a moment and thank Laurel for all that she has done for me. Not only was I able to discover that I suffer from an autoimmune disease, I was able to gain the education and tools needed to pursue the healthiest life for me in spite of my illness!”

Nicole J.

Citations

American Autoimmune Related Diseases Association. (n.d.). Women and Autoimmunity. Retrieved April 14, 2021, from https://www.aarda.org/who-we-help/patients/women-and-autoimmunity/

Baker, S. A., MD. (n.d.). Five Most Common Autoimmune Diseases. Retrieved April 14, 2021, from https://www.susanbakermd.com/blog/five-most-common-autoimmune-diseases

Celiac Disease Foundation. (n.d.). Autoimmune disorders. Retrieved April 14, 2021, from https://celiac.org/about-celiac-disease/related-conditions/autoimmune-disorders/

Celiac Disease Foundation. (n.d.). What is Celiac Disease. Retrieved April 14, 2021, from https://celiac.org/about-celiac-disease/what-is-celiac-disease/

Center for Managing Chronic Disease. (n.d.). About Chronic Disease. Retrieved April 14, 2021, from https://cmcd.sph.umich.edu/about/about-chronic-disease/

Cojocaru, M., Cojocaru, I. M., & Silosi, I. (2010). Multiple autoimmune syndrome. Maedica, 5(2), 132–134. Retrieved April 14, 2021, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3150011/

Genentech. (2017, November 01). Autoimmune Disease 101. Retrieved April 14, 2021, from https://www.gene.com/stories/autoimmune-disease-101

Jacob, A., MS, RD. (2013, February). Gut Health and Autoimmune Disease – Research Suggests Digestive Abnormalities May Be the Underlying Cause. Retrieved April 14, 2021, from https://www.todaysdietitian.com/newarchives/021313p38.shtml

Medline Plus. (2021, March 31). Autoimmune Diseases. Retrieved April 14, 2021, from https://medlineplus.gov/autoimmunediseases.html

National Institutes of Health. (2016, March). Autoimmune diseases. Retrieved April 14, 2021, from https://www.niams.nih.gov/health-topics/autoimmune-diseases

Office of Women’s Health. (2019, April 01). Autoimmune diseases. Retrieved April 14, 2021, from https://www.womenshealth.gov/a-z-topics/autoimmune-diseases

Vighi, G., Marcucci, F., Sensi, L., Di Cara, G., & Frati, F. (2008, September). Allergy and the gastrointestinal system. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2515351/. doi:10.1111/j.1365-2249.2008.03713.x

Watson, S. (2019, March 26). Autoimmune Diseases: Types, Symptoms, Causes, Diagnosis & More. Retrieved April 14, 2021, from https://www.healthline.com/health/autoimmune-disorders#common-autoimmune-diseases

Disclaimer: I am not a doctor. This blog post is general information only and is not to be substituted for medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment.

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