What Is Autoimmune Disease?
Autoimmune disease affects around 23 million Americans, and nearly 80% of those are women. A properly functioning immune system defends the body against disease and infection. Autoimmune disease occurs when the immune system is producing antibodies that attack the body’s healthy cells, tissues, and organs, as opposed to fighting off infections.
Some autoimmune diseases attack only one organ, while others affect the whole body. In many cases, this over-defense response leads to chronic inflammation, which is now associated with many autoimmune diseases.
What Are the Symptoms?
In the early stages, many autoimmune diseases share common symptoms. This can make it challenging to obtain an accurate diagnosis. Many people live for several years without knowing or receiving an official diagnosis. Some of these symptoms include:
- Joint pain and swelling
- Skin problems
- Abdominal pain or digestive issues
- Recurring fever
- Swollen glands
- Hair loss
- And many more
If you have ever had a cut, burn, or animal bite, you are likely familiar with inflammation as a response to bodily trauma. Inflammation is a necessary survival mechanism that helps the body to fight germs and repair damaged tissues.
However, inflammation is problematic when it becomes a chronic response to certain lifestyle choices and environmental factors. When inflammation lingers, the immune system signals white blood cells to attack nearby healthy tissues and organs, perpetuating the cycle of chronic inflammation.
There is more evidence today that points to inflammation as one of the biggest contributors to disease. Scientists have discovered that inflammation is a common element in major diseases such as heart disease and long-term respiratory diseases, like asthma.
It is also suspected in autoimmune diseases such as MS, lupus, or rheumatoid arthritis. Chronic inflammation leads to significant organ and tissue damage.
In addition to Functional Medicine approach, working with a chiropractor is an excellent way to manage inflammation. When the spine and joints are in proper alignment, your nerves can function correctly. This causes the production of neuropeptides to stop, which decreases inflammation. Nerves that are in an aligned spine are not pinched or touched by discs or vertebrae so they don’t send out distress signals to muscles which can cause inflammation.
What Causes Autoimmune Diseases?
Although many people are struggling with the complexities that come with an autoimmune diagnosis, there is yet to be a definitive answer as to what exactly causes the disease. Certain triggers have been identified: inflammation, environmental factors, food sensitivities, intestinal permeability, chemical irritants, and pharmaceuticals. Occasionally a bacteria or virus will initiate change in the immune system.
The Western diet is a suspected risk factor because diets high in fats and processed sugar can lead to inflammation. Sometimes autoimmune diseases are genetic and will occur in different generations of a family.
What Are Some Common Autoimmune Diseases?
Scientists have discovered more than 80 autoimmune diseases. Some of the most common ones include:
In Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, the immune system attacks the thyroid, causing a deficiency in thyroid hormone production. Inflammation from Hashimoto’s leads to hypothyroidism.
Systemic Lupus Erythematosus (SLE)
Lupus was first thought to be a skin disease due to the rash that occurs during a flare-up. It is now known that Lupus can affect any part of your body, causing pain and arthritis, or inflammation of the joints.
For people living with rheumatoid arthritis, the immune system attacks the joints, causing extreme pain and swelling. The inflammation from rheumatoid arthritis can lead to damage to other body parts as well.
Celiac is an autoimmune response in genetically predisposed people who have an intolerance to gluten. The immune system attacks the small intestine, disturbing nutrient absorption.
Type 1 Diabetes
In type 1 diabetes, the insulin-producing cells in the pancreas are attacked by the immune system. This prevents the pancreas from producing insulin, and for many, the disease begins in childhood.
There isn’t a singular test that can be administered to determine if you have an autoimmune disease. Your doctor should use a combination of testing and review of symptoms, as well as a physical examination to determine your diagnosis.
An Antinuclear Antibody panel helps to determine the level of antibodies in your blood. While this test can determine whether or not you have autoimmune disease activity, it cannot identify which specific autoimmune disease you have.
Other tests can check for inflammation and autoantibodies produced in specified autoimmune diseases. If you or your doctor suspect you may be suffering from an autoimmune disease, you may need to see a specialist such as a rheumatologist, hematologist or neurologist.
Currently, treatments available for autoimmune disease do not cure the underlying disease; they just address the symptoms. Immunosuppressants are medications that suppress or reduce the strength of the immune system. These are used in hopes to quiet the immune system while not decreasing its effectiveness in other needed areas such as infections and fighting off viruses. Other traditional forms of treatment include rehabilitation and physical therapy.
Some people prefer not to take immunosuppressants and seek a more natural avenue for treatment. Chiropractic bodywork may be a highly effective option for you. It is recommended that you consult with your primary care physician before making any serious changes in your treatment plan.
However, we are happy to work with you and your primary doctor to come up with an integrated approach. Chiropractic embraces a well-balanced lifestyle for health, including proper nutrition and exercise, in addition to chiropractic care.