Autoimmune diseases are very serious conditions, and often times the signs of an autoimmune disease can be subtle. An autoimmune disease is a disease in which the immune system mistakenly attacks the body. There are many different types of autoimmune diseases and they can affect everything from skin to joints to organs. Knowing the signs of an autoimmune disease can help you determine if you need to make an appointment with your doctor to discuss your symptoms and make sure there is nothing serious causing the problems you are having.
1. Unexplained Weight Loss or Weight Gain
Losing or gaining weight for no explained reason can be one of the signs of an autoimmune disease. Although some people might be happy to lose some weight, when you have an autoimmune disease, weight loss can come out of nowhere and can be quite serious. The same is true for weight gain. Two of the better known autoimmune diseases, Celiac disease and type I diabetes, can cause weight loss. In the case of celiac disease, the immune cells attack the lining of the small intestine making it difficult for nutrients to be absorbed. In type I diabetes the cells that make insulin are attacked, which results in weight loss. Weight gain can be caused by Hashimoto’s disease, which attacks the thyroid gland resulting in an underactive thyroid. If you are losing or gaining weight and eating normally you may want to see your doctor to make sure stress isn’t the only reason.
2. Joint Pain
Everyone experiences joint pain now and then, but if the joint pain becomes severe and your joints are swelling it could be a sign that something more serious is going on. Psoriatic arthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, and systemic lupus are several examples of autoimmune diseases that can result in very painful, swollen joints. With rheumatoid arthritis the lining of the joints are attacked and destroyed. Often, for these types of autoimmune diseases powerful medications are needed to stop the immune system from causing joint damage. Achy joints are not necessarily something to worry about, but persistent joint pain is something you definitely want to pay attention to.
Rashes are commonly associated with autoimmune diseases and they can look very different depending on the type of disease that causes the rash. One of the hallmarks of systemic lupus is a butterfly shaped rash over the bridge of the nose. It is very recognizable and is often a clear sign that someone has systemic lupus. There are also various forms of cutaneous lupus that result in rashes, including discoid lupus, chilblain lupus, and lupus panniculitis. Psoriasis and psoriatic arthritis can also cause rashes, as can celiac disease. If you notice an unusual rash, and you know it is not from allergies make an appointment to see a dermatologist who can biopsy or do a scraping of the rash to determine what is causing it to appear.
4. Itchy Skin
Closely related to rashes, itchy skin can also be caused by an autoimmune disease. Systemic and cutaneous lupus, celiac disease, type I diabetes, and autoimmune hepatitis can all cause itchy skin. However, just having itchy skin probably does not indicate that you have an autoimmune disease. It could be dry, chapped skin or an allergic reaction to something, so if your skin is itchy don’t jump to conclusions! If you do have some of the other symptoms accompanied with the itchy skin, then seeing your doctor would probably be a good idea. A doctor can always do some tests just to make sure.
5. Hair Loss
Hair loss is an especially sensitive problem for both men and women, but it can be especially devastating for a women. Hair loss is sometimes caused by autoimmune problems with the thyroid, like Grave’s or Hashimoto’s disease. Often, being put on the appropriate thyroid medication for these diseases can stop and reverse the hair loss. Another cause of hair loss is alopecia, which results in patchy hair loss from the immune system attacking the hair follicles. Even though hair loss can be an embarrassing and sensitive topic, please don’t let it stop you from asking for help. Talking to your doctor can often be reassuring because they may be able to find out what is causing the hair loss and help.
6. Mouth Sores
Mouth sores are common in autoimmune diseases like systemic lupus and Crohn’s disease. These sores can be quite painful and are often associated with an increase in autoimmune activity. It is important to be aware that having a mouth sore is not necessarily an indicator that you have an autoimmune disease. Mouth sores could be a result of biting your cheek really hard, the flu, a folic acid deficiency, or a vitamin B12 deficiency. If you have mouth sores consistently, however, you should talk to your doctor about them at your next appointment.
In today’s hectic and busy world most people experience fatigue at some point. However, you should not ignore the fatigue if you feel like you have lead feet and the tiredness is extreme. Many autoimmune diseases result in fatigue. Autoimmune hepatitis, celiac disease, Hashimoto’s disease, type I diabetes, systemic lupus, and others can result in extreme fatigue. Whether or not you suspect an autoimmune disease is causing your excessive fatigue, you should see your physician because extreme tiredness is not something to take lightly. It could indicate an autoimmune disease or a more simple vitamin deficiency.
Autoimmune diseases are serious, and often they have seemingly unrelated symptoms associated with them. If you have any unusual symptoms that you just can’t explain seeing your doctor is always a good idea. The chances that you have an autoimmune disease with any of these symptoms is quite small; however, anything out of the ordinary should always be checked by a physician just to be on the safe side. Do you or does someone you know have an autoimmune disease? Have you ever suspected that your symptoms might be caused by more than just stress?