One of the greatest frustrations of autoimmune diseases is their ability to remain a mystery. While one person with the disease has certain symptoms, another shows completely different ones. Many are diagnosed after years of trial and error, trying to figure out which disease it is. Follow along as we discuss the most common autoimmune diseases. Let’s begin with defining autoimmune disease.
What Is an Autoimmune Disease?
When an autoimmune disease is present, the body begins attacking itself. Our immune systems recognize foreign cells and get rid of them to keep us healthy. In the case of an autoimmune disease, our immune system sees healthy cells as foreign and attacks them.
This attack on our cells from the immune system causes any number of symptoms, from skin rashes to an inability to walk. Autoimmune diseases don’t play favorites. They can attack anyone, and it’s unknown as to why it happens.
The Most Common Types of Autoimmune Diseases
There are over 80 known types of autoimmune diseases. The following is a list of the ones most commonly seen.
Rheumatoid is inflammatory, attacking the body’s own tissues and causing mild to severe pain in the joints. If severe enough, the immune system can attack organs as well. Beyond painful joints, rheumatoid causes exhaustion and bone deformity, making it difficult for someone affected to walk or use their hands.
Lupus, sometimes known as the “tired disease,” is an inflammatory autoimmune disease, much like rheumatoid, as the immune system attacks healthy tissue. Early symptoms are a signature lupus rash on the face (the butterfly rash), aching joints, and extreme fatigue.
Lupus may also attack the brain, heart, lungs, blood cells, and kidneys. Lupus isn’t curable, but it is treatable and sometimes goes into remission for weeks, months, or even years.
When multiple sclerosis occurs, the immune system attacks the protective nerve coverings. This damage to the nerves causes a communication breakdown between nerves and the brain. The breakdown leads to many problems, making multiple sclerosis one of the most frustrating autoimmune diseases. Conditions vary greatly, but it usually affects movement and the ability to regulate body temperature.
In the case of celiac disease, the immune system attacks the lining of the small intestine, creating an inability to digest gluten. As the damage worsens, the small intestine has a difficult time absorbing necessary nutrients.
Psoriasis causes a build-up of tissues, leaving red, itchy, scaly patches on the skin. Flare-ups come and go and seem to occur when the immune system struggles, such as when you have a cold or feel a lot of stress.
Type 1 Diabetes
The immune system attacks insulin-producing cells in the pancreas, making insulin production difficult and leading to type 1 diabetes.
High blood sugar levels lead to kidneys, eyes, nerves, and heart damage.
There are many more autoimmune diseases, and we’ve only covered the most common. There is no cure for autoimmune diseases; however, treatments to manage the conditions have come a long way. For many autoimmune diseases, lifestyle changes, medication, diet, and physical therapy can help patients carry on with life as best as possible. As with any disease, it’s helpful to catch an autoimmune disease before it goes too far.
Treating Autoimmune Diseases
Every autoimmune disease varies, and not all treatments work for each type. We are going to look at common treatments used for different autoimmune diseases. Always take your doctor’s advice when it comes to treating your autoimmune disease.
Although physical therapy won’t work for everyone, it does help many with autoimmune diseases, especially those which cause immobility or pain.
A physical therapist helps their patients strengthen the cardiovascular system for overall good health. They may use methods to help with walking when movement control has become tough.
Counseling and Support
An autoimmune disease strains one’s mental health. The fear of the unknown and the frustration with pain and exhaustion can wear a person out mentally and emotionally. Counseling and support can’t cure an autoimmune disease, but it can make it easier to cope.
Counseling is one on one talking with a licensed counselor trained to understand what you’re going through. They can offer advice and a listening ear.
Support comes in the form of finding a group of people with the same autoimmune issues. Groups like this usually get together occasionally to support each other and create new friendships. Getting to know others who know what you’re going through is helpful. A doctor’s office can usually lead patients to these types of groups.
Medication is a last resort when other therapies aren’t helping. It’s helpful to keep flare-ups down and maintain an autoimmune disease so it doesn’t worsen. Your doctor knows when medication is needed.
Diet and Lifestyle Changes
For some, lifestyle and dietary changes help calm and control disease symptoms. Lifestyle changes may include exercise or changing the way that one exercises. Dietary changes can include adding more fruits and veggies to the diet and completely cutting out gluten if you have celiac disease.
As mentioned, every autoimmune disease is as unique as the person it affects. No one treatment fits all.
Understanding the most common autoimmune diseases is helpful as we meet people who struggle with an autoimmune disease or have one ourselves. Receiving the diagnosis is frightening because of the unknown and inability to predict what symptoms will come. Thankfully, diagnosis is becoming easier because of the increase in autoimmune diseases, and doctors start treatments right away.
At Chariot Innovations, we specialize in helping those with movement disorders and have helped many autoimmune sufferers, mainly those with multiple sclerosis. Using a method called hippotherapy, patients find strength, comfort, and an ability to gain back the movement they have lost.
Our physical therapy device, the MiraColt, mimics hippotherapy without the use of a horse. Contact Chariot Innovations, and we’ll be happy to answer all your questions and see how the MiraColt can help you or someone you love who has a movement disorder.