With autoimmune diseases on the rise in the past few decades, medical scientists came up with some interesting theories to fill up the gap in knowledge about what causes the immune system to attack the body’s own tissues and organs.

One such theory speculates that due to the rapidly accumulating pollution in the environment we are now exposed to more chemicals than ever before and this could be the reason why autoimmune diseases are plaguing us at a higher rate than half a century ago.

Another theory puts a different spin on recent developments. According to the hygiene hypothesis, we live in a much safer world than our great-grandparents did – we have antibiotics now, vaccines, sterile environments and we raise children with much more caution. The proponents of this theory reason that this newfound safety from infections and germs leaves our immune system with almost nothing to fight and thus, no way of knowing friend from foe.

As interesting as both of these theories are, the truth is that medical professionals and researchers alike truly don’t know what causes autoimmunity. It’s very likely that environmental factors play the biggest part in the increasing prevalence of autoimmune diseases since according to researchers, genes don’t mutate fast enough to cause this dramatic increase. Heredity, however, cannot be ruled out as a risk factor.  

With many variables and unknowns, there a few things we do know about autoimmune disease. For starters, autoimmune conditions can be managed and some of the damage can even be reversed if diagnosed early enough.

The trouble is, most people get diagnosed with an autoimmune disease when significant damage has been done to major organs and so the symptoms are clear and prominent enough to make the diagnosis relatively easy to arrive to. In fact, research shows that signs of autoimmunity can show up on tests months and even years before the patient has symptoms of a fully developed autoimmune disease. So, why is it so hard to for autoimmunity to be diagnosed early on before the damage is irreparable?

There are as many as about 80 different autoimmune diseases. The earliest symptoms of autoimmunity, however, are very, very similar. So this was the good news. The bad news is, they’re also vague, non-specific and sometimes, hard to identify as a reason for concern until the disease becomes acute.  

The FindMeCure team, being dedicated to the fight against autoimmune diseases, wants to equip you with the knowledge you need to seek a medical opinion (or a few, if you have to) and receive an early diagnosis, especially considering the impact a timely intervention can have on the course of an autoimmune disease. So, here are some early signs to look for and some suggestions for how to track and address them with your doctor.

The skin is often the first indicator of inflammation. Any unusual rashes, redness, itchiness or blotchy and sensitive areas that there is no particular reason for can point to underlying inflammation. Even acne can be a sign that something is not quite right internally.

While none of the things listed here in and of itself can be directly linked to an autoimmune disease, noticing more than two of these symptoms should be reason enough to track anything unusual or suspicious you notice, especially if you have a family history of autoimmune diseases.

So, if the condition of your skin inexplicably changes, be aware that among the many possible causes can be an overactive immune system. Some autoimmune diseases especially, like lupus, are directly linked to changes in the texture and the color of the skin, so be mindful of swollen, scaly areas. Sun sensitivity can be another thing to look out for and keep in mind when assessing any changes in how your skin ‘behaves’.

Feeling mentally and physically exhausted even after some solid 8 or even 9 hours of sleep should not go unexamined. Fatigue and ‘brain fog’ can be among the earliest signs of autoimmunity.

Fatigue is sometimes the physical manifestation of anemia of chronic inflammation – a type of anemia that can be present in cases of underlying inflammatory disease and as you know, inflammation can be one of the concerning signs of an autoimmune condition, which should be taken very seriously.

Weight fluctuation without any specific reason for it, especially if other symptoms are present, can also point to issues with the immune system. While some autoimmune diseases are associated with weight loss, others, on the contrary, can cause weight gain.

If your diet and physical activity haven’t changed but your weight has and it can’t be attributed to changes in metabolism that happen gradually with age, it’s possible that it’s your immune system that needs medical attention. Hypothyroidism, for example, is linked to slower metabolism which can translate into rapidly gaining weight even if your diet has stayed the same. And while it’s a myth that you can’t maintain a healthy weight with hypothyroidism (especially when you’re on the right treatment), you should be suspicious of changes in your body’s response to food.

Muscle or joint pain can be an unsurprising indication that something’s going on with your immune system. If you’re not an athlete or an avid gym enthusiast that recently overdid their work-out, your muscles and joints shouldn’t just randomly hurt.

Rheumatoid arthritis is not the only autoimmune disease linked to this type of pain. Aches all over your body can also be an early sign of Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, a condition of hypofunction of the thyroid, the result of the immune system attacking the gland. A lot of autoimmune conditions have very similar early symptoms, so don’t jump to conclusions. Muscle and joint pain can also be a symptom of lupus but if it’s really early on, general autoimmunity is what you should look out for and then if confirmed, look into specific conditions.

Any discomfort of the digestive tract should be examined if other symptoms are also present. A lot of IBDs cause mild symptoms at first that come and go and can easily be attributed to ‘bad eating’ or stress. But you shouldn’t wait for blood in your stool to take diarrhea seriously.

Abdominal pain, cramps, bloating can all be caused by different things that have nothing to do with your immune system. However, if such symptoms appear ‘out of nowhere’ and you notice other signs of inflammation too, seek a medical opinion. The lining of your digestive tract shouldn’t be severely compromised before you’re eligible to fight the inflammation. In fact, the sooner you do, the more of your beneficial microflora can be preserved.

Autoimmune diseases are not easy to diagnose unless specific prominent symptoms are present. Autoimmunity, however, can be diagnosed with a blood test that looks for auto-antibodies or tests looking for inflammation and dysfunction of certain organs most likely to be damaged by an immune system gone rogue. 

If you have noticed some of these early signs of autoimmunity, demand a blood test and a second opinion if your doctor refuses to take your concerns seriously. The earlier an autoimmune disease is detected, the easier it is to manage it and limit the damage done to the organs. So, if you’re experiencing unusual symptoms, keep track of them and team up with medical professionals focused on screening and prevention.

6 Comments

  1. I have diagnoses and medication/treatment for fibromyalgia, clinical depression, seasonal depression, chronic migraine, back pain (degenerative discs, arthritis, herniated discs, venous circulatory condition, non diabetic neuropathy, reynauds, and sleep disorder, not apnea. My daughter, 35, is working with a geneticist at Harvard medical. Is suicide the best option for me? I take hydrocodone 10/325 for aches and pains, and cymbalta for depression and fibromyalgia. I also take montekulast for asthma, levvothyroxine, losartan, and verapamil, with vitamin and mineral supplements daily.

    • NO! suicide is not the best option for you. Things can get better! Try eating seeing someone specialized in treating diseases with food and pray! You will get through this.

    • The good thing is that you can get the treatment you need for your medical conditions! I have been battling an illness for months and they can;t find out what it is. It has really made me want to die so badly but, I keep hoping for he best and they will find the culprit soon. Keep your head up.

  2. Never the answer… Your daughter needs you! I hear medical CBD oil has helped people with your illnesses . I’ve been researching it for my son to treat his Ulcerative Colitis. Most medical doctors aren’t educated in it so you will have to do some research in your area. Best of luck and prayers to you for healing ❤

  3. I’ve had all of the systems for an autoimmune disease but when I bring it up to my mom she tells me it is because I’m a growing girl. What do I do?

  4. Go to your doctor and describe your symptoms, your doctor will run tests to see what might be wrong. If nothing else this will put your mind at ease. In the meantime, make sure you are getting enough sleep, exercising regularly and eating healthy. Diet is very important to autoimmune diseases. Google some diets that reduce inflammation, avoid gluten, dairy, soy and sugar. Best of luck!

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