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What Is Autoimmune Disease And What Are The Symptoms And Causes?

Holistic Health

There are over eighty autoimmune diseases. Some are quite common, such as Hashimoto’s thyroiditis or rheumatoid arthritis, and some are more elusive and difficult to diagnose. Yet, all autoimmune diseases share some root causes, even if the autoimmunity shows up in different areas of the body. 


Autoimmune disease affects over 24 million people in the United States, most of whom are women. Women are more likely to get diagnosed with autoimmune disease during times of high stress and low hormones, such as the postpartum period and perimenopause. Not a day goes by in my practice when I’m not discussing autoimmune disease in terms of both prevention and treatment. 


In today’s article, I’m going to cover the basics of autoimmune disease and in Part 2 of this series, I’ll dive more into the functional medicine perspective and approach. Keep reading to learn more about:



This is a must read for all women! Let’s get started. 


What Is Autoimmune Disease?


What is the meaning of autoimmunity? Literally meaning self-immunity, autoimmunity is defined as the reaction of the immune system to self, as if the self was non-self or a foreign invader. 


You see, the immune system is designed to identify foreign molecules or organisms that have entered the body and get rid of them. In autoimmunity, this system goes awry and the immune system mistakes some of the body’s own tissues as foreign. This mistake, called molecular mimicry, leads to antibody production against the self-tissue and immune system attack. Over time, inflammation increases that damages cells, organs and tissue resulting in a loss of function. 


Autoimmunity is possible throughout the body; the thyroid, joints, and skin are common autoimmune targets. Ultimately, however, autoimmunity is an immune system issue, with both genetic and environmental root causes that manifests in parts of the body where we observe the symptoms. Autoimmune disease is considered a chronic disease that occurs when the body is primed for autoimmunity and exposed to a trigger. I’ll dive more into the root causes of autoimmune disease in Part 2 of this series. 


Signs And Symptoms


Autoimmune disease symptoms may be highly variable since autoimmune inflammation may affect any area of the body and may be present to different degrees. Sometimes symptoms will be very specific, and other times people will experience a collection of more non-specific and widespread symptoms that may be mistaken for depression, stress, a cold or simply brushed off as “normal” signs of aging or hormone change. 


Signs and symptoms may include:

I assure you that these symptoms are anything but normal and deserve further investigation. Although these symptoms may be common for women to experience at one time or another, symptoms are messages from deep within the body. It’s our job to use our intuition and listen closely.  

 

Autoimmune Disease Condition List


As mentioned, there are over 80 types of autoimmune diseases listed in the scientific literature. Each may require different antibody testing and criteria for diagnosis. 


The autoimmune disease list includes:



And the list goes on. When it comes to women’s health, my mission is to not only uncover the issues, but to achieve optimal health in a way that prevents disease down the road. We cannot overlook autoimmunity in that conversation. 


We’ve covered the basics of what autoimmune disease is, the signs and symptoms and the different diagnoses related to autoimmunity. Now, in Part 2 of this blog series, I’m going to dive into the functional medicine perspective, causes and treatments for autoimmunity. This information is pure gold! I hope you’ll join me to continue the conversation.


References

  1. National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences. (2021). Autoimmune Disease. https://www.niehs.nih.gov/health/topics/conditions/autoimmune/ 
  2. Rose N. R. (2016). Prediction and Prevention of Autoimmune Disease in the 21st Century: A Review and Preview. American journal of epidemiology, 183(5), 403–406. Abstract: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/26888748/ 
  3. Cusick, M. F., Libbey, J. E., & Fujinami, R. S. (2012). Molecular mimicry as a mechanism of autoimmune disease. Clinical reviews in allergy & immunology, 42(1), 102–111. Full text: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3266166/ 

American Autoimmune Related Diseases Association. Autoimmune Disease List. https://www.aarda.org/diseaselist/

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