Have you been Diagnosed with an Autoimmune Disease?
Our bodies may sometimes make a mistake and destroy parts of itself. In response to a trigger, the immune system may begin producing antibodies that instead of fighting infections, attack the body’s own tissues.
Examples of autoimmune diseases include:
- Rheumatoid arthritis – A chronic inflammatory disorder affecting many joints, including those in the hands and feet.
- Lupus – An inflammatory disease caused when the immune system attacks its own tissues.
- Sjögren’s syndrome – An immune system disorder characterized by dry eyes and dry mouth.
- Polymyalgia rheumatica – An inflammatory disorder causing muscle pain and stiffness around the shoulders and hips.
- Multiple sclerosis – A disease in which the immune system eats away at the protective covering of nerves.
- Ankylosing spondylitis – An inflammatory arthritis affecting the spine and large joints.
- Type 1 diabetes – A chronic condition in which the pancreas produces little or no insulin.
- Alopecia areata – Sudden hair loss that starts with one or more circular bald patches that may overlap.
- Vasculitis – An inflammation of the blood vessels that causes changes in the blood vessel walls.
- Temporal arteritis – An inflammation of the arteries in and around the scalp.
How an Autoimmune Reaction gets Started
The autoimmune reaction may get started by the immune system recognizing a normal tissue or substance in the body as foreign. If a normal body tissue or substance is altered, such as by a virus or a drug, it can cause the body to recognize it as foreign. If a foreign substance that is similar to a normal body tissue or substance enters the body, the immune system may attack the body as well as the foreign substance. An autoimmune reaction may also be caused by a malfunction in antibody production leading to antibodies that attack the body.
There are many types of autoimmune diseases, more than 80. There are also many additional diseases which are thought to have autoimmune components. The symptoms of an autoimmune disease generally depend on which part of the body is affected. Some autoimmune disorders target specific types of tissue (e.g., blood vessels, skin, connective tissue), while others may target a specific organ (e.g., thyroid, pancreas). Symptoms generally associated with autoimmunity include inflammation, pain, muscle aches, fatigue, and a low-grade fever. Inflammation may be the first sign of an autoimmune disease.
Treatment of an autoimmune disorder traditionally involves suppressing the immune response and will vary according to which tissues are affected. For a naturopathic physician, however, treatment of an autoimmune disorder involves finding and treating the cause of the disorder, not just suppressing the immune response. In general, the root cause of an autoimmune disorder is an overactive immune response due to some trigger. In the descriptions of the conditions listed above, most have inflammation in common.
For example, multiple sclerosis, the most common nerve disease in young adults, is a chronic inflammatory disorder of the nervous system that is believed to be due to an autoimmune attack on myelin, the protective coating on nerve cells. In multiple sclerosis, myelin is slowly eroded by the body’s immune system, leading to problems with muscle coordination (because muscles require the action of nerves) and vision. Researchers suspect that the autoimmune trigger in multiple sclerosis may be infection by a virus or other microorganism, but this has not been proven beyond doubt.
If you are seeking treatment for an autoimmune condition or suspect you may have one, we can help you. Please call our office to make an appointment with one of our naturopathic or Chinese medicine practitioners, (360) 787-3615.