Lupus. Multiple sclerosis. Hashimoto’s thyroiditis. Sjogren’s syndrome. Rheumatoid arthritis. Autoimmune hepatitis.
Celiac disease. Crohn’s disease. Juvenile-onset diabetes. Most people are surprised to learn that these are all examples of autoimmune diseases.
Although these diseases are common and relevant, it is usually not until celebrities announce that they have been stricken with an autoimmune disease that people start to take notice.
For example, Venus Williams told the world that she was sidelined by a diagnosis of Sjogren’s syndrome. Nick Cannon revealed that he has been diagnosed with a “lupus-like” disease.
What is Autoimmune Disease?
Autoimmune disease is a constellation of diseases in which the body’s immune system begins to recognize normal cells (self) as foreign (non-self) and, as a consequence, attacks the cells.
An immune/inflammatory response is triggered, and leads to destruction of the specific tissue. The destruction can be major or minor; and at times is life-threatening.
Initial symptoms are variable, depending on the organ system involved, but the unifying symptoms for almost all cases are fatigue, and a general sense of malaise.
Some autoimmune diseases are organ-specific, but others can be systemic (affecting multiple organ systems).
We do not know what triggers this autoimmune response in most people, but in some cases, there is a genetic component. Incidence of these diseases is also known to be highly gender-specific, often affecting women in greater numbers than men, by a ratio of 3:1.
It is interesting to note that autoimmune diseases run in packs; i.e., if you are diagnosed with one, you are likely to be affected by another one sometime later in life.
Here are 6 signs that you may have an autoimmune disease:
1. Joint pain, muscle or pain or weakness
2. Recurrent rashes or hives, sun-sensitivity, a butterfly-shaped rash across your nose and cheeks
3. Difficulty concentrating or focusing
4. Hair loss or white patches on your skin or inside your mouth
5. Dry eyes, mouth or skin
6. Numbness or tingling in the hands or feet
How is Autoimmune Disease Treated?
Treatment usually involves starting medications that suppress your immune system with high-dose steroids, or other immunosuppressants.
Chronic immunosuppressant use increases one’s susceptibility to infections. The only autoimmune disease that can be effectively treated without medication (pharmaceutical or alternative) is Celiac disease (gluten-restricted diet).
Given the slight possibility in overlap of diagnoses, it is prudent for those newly diagnosed with any autoimmune disease to consider testing for Celiac disease (if you have symptoms at all suggestive of gluten intolerance).
If you are found to be sensitive to gluten, and you eliminate it from your diet, the other autoimmune disease MAY improve as well.
The fewer immune-manipulating medications you have to take, the better.
There were rumors last year that Rita Owens, mother of Dana “Queen Latifah” Owens, 66, was diagnosed with lung cancer. Latifah denied the reports, only stating her mother had “gone through some medical challenges.”
But now, the talk show host reveals her mom has actually been struggling with the incurable condition scleroderma, which has caused scar tissue to build up in the lungs, resulting in high blood pressure and excess fibrous connective tissue, making it hard for her to breathe.
Latifah claims the false reports were highly insensitive as she had wanted to keep the matter private, telling People magazine, “When you’re dealing with someone who’s not feeling well, you want to protect them.”
Rita Owens decided to go public with her health crisis in a bid to help others who may be dealing with the condition. Latifah, who moved her mom into her California home last year so she could care for her, insists she is “stable” and “doing ok.”
“It’s not 100 percent, but we’re treating it and having some results… We’ve gotten so close this year, with everything we’ve been going through.”