Did you know that diabetes is considered an autoimmune disease? Many people don’t, or don’t even know what an autoimmune disease entails.
An autoimmune disease is when your immune system attacks itself in some way to cause deterioration and destruction of tissue. The immune system cannot tell the difference between foreign cells and your own cells. Your body releases proteins, called autoantibodies that attach to healthy cells. This results in the decrease in the body’s ability to fight foreign invaders—such as the common cold or flu—causing the individual to become more prone to infections and the development of other diseases.
Some diseases attack only one organ, such as the pancreas in diabetes, while others, like lupus, attack the whole body. There are over 80 different autoimmune diseases, with the most common ones being:
- Type 1 Diabetes—The immune system attacks and destroys insulin-producing cells in the pancreas. Insulin helps to regulate blood sugar levels. Too high of blood sugar can damage blood vessels and organs such as the heart, kidneys, eyes, and nerves.
- Rhuematoid Arthritis—The immune system attacks the joints. This results in redness, warmth, soreness, and stiffness in the joints.
- Psoriasis/Psoriatic Arthritis—Causes skin cells to multiply too quickly which build up and form red, scaly patches. There can also be swelling, stiffness and pain in the joints.
- Multiple Sclerosis—Damages the protective coating that surrounds nerve cells. Symptoms include numbness, weakness, balance issues, and trouble walking.
- Lupus—Affects many organs including joints, kidneys, brain, and heart. Symptoms include joint pain, fatigue, and rashes.
- Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD)—Inflammation in the lining of the intestines. Crohn’s disease and Ulcerative Colitis are two kinds of IBD.
- Addison’s Disease—Attacks the adrenal glands which produce certain hormones. A lack of these hormones affects the way the body uses and stores carbohydrates and sugar. Symptoms include weakness, fatigue, weight loss and low blood sugar.
- Sjogren’s Syndrome—The immune systems attacks the joints, as well as the glands that provide lubrication to the eyes and mouth.
- Celiac Disease—When gluten is in the intestine, the immune system attacks it and causes inflammation. Symptoms include diarrhea and abdominal pain. Some people develop a gluten sensitivity which is not an autoimmune disease but has similar symptoms.
While each disease has a unique set of symptoms, early symptoms of many of the diseases include fatigue, achy muscles, swelling and redness, skin rashes, hair loss, numbness and tingling in hands and feet, low-grade fever and/or trouble concentrating. Any of these symptoms does not necessarily mean you have an autoimmune disease, but it’s good to be aware.
Unfortunately, there is not a magic test that can tell one whether or not they have an autoimmune disease. An antinuclear antibody test is usually the first test doctors use. A positive result means you likely have one of these diseases but doesn’t specify which one. There are also many false positive/negative results.
Additional physical and clinical tests will have to be performed before there is a final diagnosis that you have an autoimmune disease. Because of the subjective nature, the first step is finding a good doctor who specializes in the autoimmune disease.
Many people feel alone when it comes to learning how to live with an autoimmune disease. Luckily, there is an abundance of information and support available. Ask your doctor or search the web for assistance on your particular diagnosis.