What is an autoimmune disease and is it on your horizon?
Autoimmune disease is strongly linked to an excessive immune response that encourages your body to attack itself. I talked about this in a recent FB Live. The body gets confused and mistakes healthy cells for harmful threats and produces antibodies to fight them. The result? Unpleasant and even debilitating symptoms that can have a major impact on day-to-day life. So, what are some of the signs that you could potentially be suffering from an autoimmune disease?
General Warning Signs of Autoimmune Disease
We all feel tired sometimes but with a lot of autoimmune conditions, fatigue is a constant companion. It’s one of the most common signs of an autoimmune condition. I’m not talking I’ve stayed up too late Friday night and I want to sleep in on Saturday tired. I’m talking the type of fatigue that feels like it’s set into your bones and shows no signs of leaving, no matter how much sleep you get.
Muscular and joint pain is another symptom of many autoimmune conditions and can stem from inflammation. A burning feeling in the joints and sore muscles (not from your newest exercise routine or overexertion) can be linked to this. If you have chronic muscular and joint pain or you experience it in random flares with no obvious pattern (you’ve not been overdoing the exercise, for example), it could potentially be another red flag.
It seems like you catch every bug that goes around, and then some, and you take twice as long to shake it off. Low immunity, aka always getting sick, can be another warning sign of autoimmune disease. Common colds and viruses are the obvious ones to think about. But this can also extend to yeast infections, sinus problems and Urinary Tract Infections (UTIs), to name a few. You may actually feel like you are either sick or hibernating to stay clear of the latest viral outbreak.
Chronic digestive problems are another common symptom of autoimmune conditions and not just ones that affect the gut. Leaky Gut Syndrome is now thought to underpin a lot of autoimmune conditions and causes digestive problems. Diarrhea, constipation, bloating, gas and stomach cramps…all the digestive things that can keep you hold up at home can be linked to this.
Brain fog and having difficulty concentrating can also be a symptom of some autoimmune conditions.
Unexpected changes in your weight can be a by-product of autoimmune disease. Weight loss when you’re not dieting can be linked to celiac disease, Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD) and Grave’s Disease, to name a few of the autoimmune conditions that can be involved. Weight gain can also be a factor in autoimmune disease and often goes hand in hand with fatigue.
Numbness and tingling in the hands and feet (and sometimes, elsewhere in the body) can be part of an immune response.
Noticed more hair coming out when you wash or brush it? Nutrition and hormone changes can be culprits but hair loss can also sometimes be a sign of autoimmune disease. Alopecia areata is an obvious one given that it is characterized by hair loss but other autoimmune conditions can result in hair loss too.
If you’re nodding “yes” to a lot of these issues, it’s worth investigating the possibility of autoimmune disease.
Warning Signs of Some Specific Autoimmune Conditions
Thyroid problems are a fairly common autoimmune condition. The thyroid gland is involved in a lot of functions in the body, which is why it can affect your health in so many different ways.
Your thyroid gland can either be underactive and produce too little thyroid hormone (hypothyroidism) or it can be overactive and produce too much (hyperthyroidism). Even though symptoms may be pronounced, thyroid issues typically go undiagnosed.
Some of the signs of thyroid problems include:
- Unexplained weight gain as a result of a slower metabolism (hypothyroidism)
- Unexplained weight loss, often while having a very healthy appetite (hyperthyroidism)
- Muscle pain
- Chronic fatigue
- Bags under and around the eyes due to fluid build up
- High cholesterol, which can be linked to high levels of thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH) according to some studies, although this is less likely with minor hypothyroidism
- Depression (more likely with hypothyroidism)
- Anxiety and panic attacks (more likely with hyperthyroidism)
- Dry, brittle hair and nails (more likely with hypothyroidism)
- Constipation (more likely with hypothyroidism)
- Loose stools and IBS type symptoms (more likely with hyperthyroidism)
- A hoarse voice
- Heavy menstruation (more likely with hyperthyroidism)
- Very light menstruation or your menstrual cycle stops completely (more likely with hyperthyroidism)
- Swelling in the neck or feelings of fullness in the neck (can happen with both thyroid conditions)
For people with Hashimoto’s, the body mistakenly attacks the thyroid gland. This can lead to symptoms of hypothyroidism, in which the thyroid gland becomes underactive and doesn’t produce enough thyroid hormone.
Some of the symptoms of Hashimoto’s can include:
- Weight gain
- Muscle and joint pain
- Feeling the cold
- Hair loss and thinning hair
- Heavy and/or erratic menstrual periods
- Slow heart rate
Lupus symptoms can range from pretty mild to very debilitating, depending on how badly you’re affected. It’s not uncommon for symptoms to flare up and then die down again for a while, why is one reason why lupus can be difficult to diagnose in the early days.
Some of the signs of lupus can include:
- Swollen joints
- Breathing problems, including pain when you breathe in.
- Skin rashes, particularly a “butterfly” rash over the bridge of the nose and cheeks that may precede a flare up or appear after being out in the sun
- Hair loss
- Kidney problems and kidney inflammation
- Digestive and gastrointestinal problems
- Thyroid problems
- Dry mouth and eyes
Some of the symptoms of fibromyalgia can include:
- Chronic pain
- Sensitivity to touch and feeling pain when anything makes contact with your skin
- Brain fog
- Tingling and numbness
- Excessive sweating
- Changes in the way your muscles and joints work after moving between temperatures e.g. getting a stiff neck or headaches after going out into the cold from being in a warm room or vice versa
- Abdominal pain
- Digestive problems and/or changes in bowel habits
Any of the symptoms listed are your body communicating that something isn’t working correctly. Common symptoms of an autoimmune disease can cross over with a lot of other health problems so it’s super important to start getting a diagnosis of what the underlying problem(s) may be. Remember, no one is immune to autoimmunity.
If you interested in learning more about autoimmunity, click here to start the conversation.