Approximately 20 million Americans are afflicted with one (or more) of the 81 types of autoimmune disease¹. Could you be one of them?
Autoimmunity is becoming more common and its prevalence has increased dramatically during the past 30 years for reasons that aren't fully understood² (listen to Dr. Chambers present some of the leading hypotheses). Women are more likely to develop autoimmune disease than are men and it is one of the leading causes of death among young and middle aged women³. In this article we will explore the signs and symptoms related to autoimmune disease, review the causes, and discuss the available treatments.
Signs and Symptoms of Autoimmune Disease
Signs and symptoms vary widely depending on which system is effected by the immune system. Type 1 diabetes for example will present much differently (frequent urination, hunger, extreme thirst) than celiacs disease (bloating, abdominal pain, constipation, vomiting). As a result, many individuals do not realize that they suffer from autoimmunity.
While every disease presents differently, sufferers will generally exhibit the following symptoms:
- New or increased allergies.
- New or increased sensitivity to chemicals, foods, or smells.
- Loss of energy or fatigue.
- Never getting sick (your immune system is too busy attacking itself to battle a cold).
- Brain Fog.
- Sometimes Anxiety, Depression, and ADHD.
We can identify the cause of your symptoms.
What Causes Autoimmunity
The short version: Your immune system starts to attack your own body instead of defending it.
The long version: Your body has an incredible defense system built up to protect you against viruses and opportunistic bacteria. It doesn't matter how much Lysol you spray or how frequently you apply hand sanitizer, without our body's defenses we would lose the battle. It's estimated that 3 pounds of our body weight is from the bacteria that live on and inside our bodies (and you thought you were afraid of spiders). We depend on many of these bacteria to help digest our food, process nutrients, and keep other bacteria in check. For the most part, we live in harmony with our flora and our immune system handles those that get out of line.
To make this happen, our immune system employs antibodies, tiny proteins that bind specifically to intruders that enter our body. Once an antibody has bound to an intruder, we have a collection of defensive cells (white blood cells, various t-cells, b lymphocytes, and a few others) that can neutralize the threat. Antibodies are important in that they help our army of defensive cells find the intruder.
Think of antibodies like a blood hound that is specifically trained to track down it's quarry and alert it's owner to the location by barking. Autoimmunity occurs when the blood hound (antibodies) starts tracking the scent of its owner, instead of its quarry. It's not really understood why this happens, again here are some hypotheses, but the important thing to remember is that your immune system starts attacking your own healthy cells. The cells that are attacked dictate the type of autoimmune disease you develop - for example: type I diabetes (pancreas), celiac disease (microvilli of the small intestine), Hashimoto's Thyroiditis (thyroid), Lupus and others (many different body systems).
Treatments Available For Autoimmune Disease
At this time, there is no cure for autoimmune disease but that doesn't mean you have to live with the symptoms forever. The main goal of treatment is to put the immune system into remission (at least when it comes to attacking your body). There are ultimately two approaches to treatment, one involves reducing immune system stimuli and the second aims to reduce immune system function.
Reducing Immune System Stimuli
Reducing immune system stimuli revolves around identifying antagonists that activate the immune system. You are probably already aware of a few things that aggravate your system, whether it be foods, lotions, cleaning products, or smells. At The Neuro Clinic, we take what you already know and combine that with a neurologic exam and blood test to identify the type of autoimmune disease. Most treatment plans involve a dietary change, supplements to help struggling body systems function, and in some cases nervous system stimulation. This approach has great outcomes and minimal side effects. It does require lifestyle change but it is worth it to feel better.
Reducing Immune System Function
The second approach utilizes anti-cancer drugs to dampen immune response. You have probably seen commercials for them on TV, drugs like Humira and Enbrel, and overall they are effective at reducing immune response. The caveat is that they reduce overall immune function and leave you susceptible to opportunistic infections, viruses, and other diseases. While warranted in extreme cases, less aggressive treatment should be used before considering an immuno-suppressant drug.
Still Looking For Answers?
We have been successful in helping many patients reduce or eliminate their symptoms and live a normal life. There are lots of variables to consider (starting with 81 different diseases) and everyone is different but it begins with understanding. We have helped many patients identify and understand their condition; something that they were unable to do after seeing multiple providers and trying many different treatments. We can help you as well.
Your Search Ends Here:
- The World Incidence and Prevalence of Autoimmune Diseases is Increasing