WHAT ARE AUTOIMMUNE DISEASES?
Autoimmune diseases are defined as conditions where the immune system mistakenly attacks healthy tissues in the body.
Autoimmunity according to Johns Hopkins is present in everyone to some degree but basically harmless. Our immune system is designed to prevent attack from invading and potentially harmful microorganisms such as bacteria and viruses which can cause illnesses.
When our benign (harmless) autoimmunity turns into pathological autoimmunity, diseases can occur. Typically, a trigger (whether an environmental or genetic factor) can misdirect the immune system to attack itself with mild to serious consequences.
The number of defined autoimmune diseases is staggering (over 80), some with familiar names like Lupus, Multiple Sclerosis and Rheumatoid Arthritis, and others which are unfamiliar like Undifferentiated Connective Tissue Disease. Diagnosis typically should be done through a specialist, for example a Rheumatologist who will utilize symptom complaints, family history and blood work to arrive at a diagnosis.
Early diagnosis is critical to obtain the correct treatment especially in the event of a diagnosis such as Lupus or severe Type I Diabetes which can be life-threatening.
Autoimmune diseases vary widely attacking any part of the body with variable symptoms making diagnosis complex and difficult. For women this is even more important – 75% of autoimmune patients are women.
Symptom complaints often found together which may indicate the presence of an autoimmune disease are joint pain and swelling, abdominal pain, heartburn, rapid weight gain or loss, fatigue, muscle weakness, rash, sensory changes in the hands or feet ( numbness, tingling), and dryness of the eyes and mouth. These complaints are the most frequent but by no means complete, thus contributing to the difficulty of diagnosis.
If you are experiencing an unusual cluster of complaints such as the symptoms listed above and have noticed a decline in your lifestyle see your doctor immediately for a correct diagnosis and treatment.
Most autoimmune diseases can be well managed with medication, a healthy lifestyle and Physical Therapy to reduce chronic pain, improve joint range of motion and muscle strength. Our goal is to return you to a safe, healthful and functional life.
Joann Tippett, PT, MSPT, CKTP, CCI, Certified Tai Chi Instructor