Auto-immune disease is an umbrella term that covers more than 80 different diseases.
The National Institutes of Health estimates that more than 23 million Americans suffer from auto-immune diseases. It is one of the top ten leading causes of death in female children and women under 64 years of age.
Auto-immune diseases affect all parts of the body and occur when the immune system attacks the healthy cells in the body. The diseases are often genetic, and diagnosis can be time consuming and frustrating. Most auto-immune diseases worsen over time, but begin with ambiguous symptoms such as fatigue and muscle aches. For many, the diseases are life-long, but symptom management is possible.
One of the most well-known auto-immune diseases is rheumatoid arthritis. This is a chronic inflammatory disorder that affects the hands and feet. It is different from osteoarthritis (the “usual” arthritis that comes with age) because it affects the lining of the joints with swelling. Women are more commonly affected by RA and symptoms usually begin between the ages of 40 and 60. In addition to general auto-immune symptoms, RA symptoms include tender, swollen joints, morning stiffness that lasts for hours, and bumps under the skin.
Another auto-immune disease, Hashimoto’s disease is caused by a thyroid gland inflammation. The thyroid is part of the endocrine system which is responsible for producing hormones. The disease causes the body’s immune system to attack the thyroid gland which often leads to an underactive thyroid (hypothyroidism). The disease itself has no symptoms, but over time damage is done to the thyroid which results in a hormone imbalance. Symptoms of hypothyroidism include fatigue, constipation, facial puffiness, dry skin, elevated blood cholesterol levels, muscle aches, stiffness, and depression.
Lupus is one of the better-known auto-immune diseases. Lupus causes the immune system to attack the body’s tissues and organs, resulting in inflammation. It is difficult to diagnose because symptoms are so similar to other diseases. A facial rash is the most prevalent symptom, but otherwise, each case of lupus is unique. People may suffer a combination of fatigue, joint pain, chest pain, dry eyes, headaches, and shortness of breath, or they may have only a few of these symptoms.
Those suffering from fibromyalgia experience musculoskeletal pain, as well as fatigue, memory loss, insomnia, and mood issues. Research has shown that those suffering from fibromyalgia experience painful sensations more intensely than others, which is caused by the way the brain processes pain signals. Patients describe the pain of fibromyalgia as a constant dull ache, usually in the back of the head, the top of the shoulders and between the shoulder blades, the front of the neck, and the chest, elbows, hips, and inner knees.
Patients suffering from fibromyalgia often sleep for long periods of time, yet awaken exhausted. Their sleep may be disrupted by pain and they might suffer from other disorders that reduce their quality of sleep, such as sleep apnea and restless legs syndrome. Fibromyalgia is often worsened by a co-diagnosis of anxiety, depression, endometriosis, or irritable bowel syndrome.
Though most doctors believe there are no cures for auto-immune diseases, there are ways to manage the symptoms of the diseases. There are many people leading full, happy lives despite being affected by auto-immune diseases. The key to managing symptoms is determining what causes symptoms flare ups. All too often, certain foods trigger episodes of pain and discomfort. Food toxicity can also aggravate the co-conditions, such as the irritable bowel syndrome, depression, or anxiety that accompanies fibromyalgia.
Food toxicity can worsen the symptoms of auto-immune diseases. The Bloodprint® test helps patients identify what foods affect them negatively. The test replaces traditional allergen tests and requires that the patient only submit to a blood draw. The blood is then exposed to more than 200 different foods, many of which are typically considered “healthy” foods. The results of the test clarify what is causing toxicity in the body, making it much easier to create a treatment plan to combat the symptoms of auto-immune diseases.