We all remember the word “owie” from our childhood. We know about getting hurt and aching from even little injuries. Along with pain comes inflammation and swelling. Adults, especially older ones, often know about aches and pains, but they do not identify the cause. Arthritis, for generations a mysterious malady, presents itself with aches and pains along with swelling and sensitivity, primarily around joints. In the last century, we discovered that it is one of our human autoimmune diseases. There are 27 categories of them by NIH count. In this article, we will explore causes, evaluation, treatment, and prevention of autoimmune diseases.
Basic Understanding of Autoimmune Diseases
The human being is a complex system made of organs and cells. There are plenty of interrelations interconnections between these systems. These organisms generally have harmonious relationships. The task of the immune system is to identify threats to the individual organ systems and neutralize or destroy those threats. Lupus (aka systemic lupus erythematosus or SLE) is a generic example of autoimmune disease.
The condition is characterized by the body’s immune system attacking the body’s own organs to neutralize or destroy as if the specific organ(s) is the invader. Lupus damages tissues—sometimes in multiple organs. It may cause inflammation and swelling over broad areas, within organs or in tissues surrounding organs. It may interfere with organ function and induce organ failure.
Not all autoimmune diseases are pervasive in their effects. Arthritis may co-occur with Lupus. Unfortunately, it is quite possible to have multiple autoimmune diseases. Arthritis is primarily a joint disease itself, affecting over 50 million of us. 300,000 children suffer from the disease.
But just as in Lupus, it is not limited in its focus. Specialists have identified over a hundred types of Lupus, even in non-joint areas like eyes, heart, kidneys, lungs, skin, etc. As with other autoimmune diseases, the immune system causes degeneration and dysfunction wherever there is bodily tissue identified as being incompatible within the body of a given human being.
Quickcare or ER for Autoimmune Diseases
It is reasonable for people to seek help for pain or sudden onset organ dysfunction. In a recent three-month study, less than 1% of over 18,000 ER visits were related specifically to autoimmune diseases. Rheumatoid arthritis patients accounted for about a third of those autoimmune admissions while SLE accounted for about a quarter. The majority of patients with systemic autoimmune diseases presented with cardiovascular complaints, aches, pains, and swelling typical of many autoimmune disorders.
Diagnosing Autoimmune Diseases
It would be a lot easier to find the proper diagnosis if we understood the etiology of autoimmune diseases. Conjecture suggests that invasive bacteria, toxins, viruses, or deviant cells (e.g., “cancerous” normal tissue or serum anomalies) stimulated by external sources may have introduced antigens into the patient.
The patient’s own response to “fight” those external invaders may have misidentified what is harmful and initiated destruction of both those cells and the cells from which they are derived. That destruction may result in the death of cells or alteration of tissue regeneration, damaging organ function in the process. The entire process may involve blood supply, connective tissue, muscle and skin tissue, glandular function (e.g. endocrine organs), and components of blood.
Main Diagnosing Methods that Doctors Use
A primary care provider or specialty physician will begin with an assessment of health history and physical status. That history will include specific questions concerning the onset of the specific health problem. Moreover, it might also contain the life events preceding that onset, and specific previous health problems that may be related to physical observations. Your doctor might also ask you questions related to familial health and questions aimed at understanding family-related health issues or specific symptoms observed by the provider.
The actual physical examination will be preceded by a visual or palpable assessment of symptoms and questions relating to the presenting complaint: Is there normal skin or rash? Do the joints appear normal or are they reddened and flushed or swollen? Does the patient appear fatigued? What kind of pain may be present? Can one localize the pain by touch?
Symptoms typically define a malady, but actual diagnosis may rely on eliminating potential disease entities. When specialists cannot explain symptoms, there are a number of tests that help identify autoimmune disorders. Moreover, they also use several tests when they cannot find a root cause that led to a certain disease.
Some of the most common diagnosis methods are antibody assessments (e.g., antinuclear antibody and autoantibody tests) and blood assessments (e.g., CBC, erythrocyte sedimentation rate, and C-reactive protein tests). Furthermore, various metabolic panel evaluations can also help. Even the common urine analysis dovetails with some tests in terms of identifying what is going on within the multifunctional body.
Treatment for Autoimmune Diseases
The treatment strategy is tri-fold. Through it, doctors try to reduce the patient’s symptoms. This way, their purpose is to make life bearable for their patients. Doctors’ main purpose is to return a malfunctioning autoimmune system to “normal”. Also, another important aspect is trying to reduce the problem to a minimum, if possible. A major concern is to enhance a malfunctioning autoimmune system’s ability to function as optimally as possible.
One may accomplish these aims by replacing what is missing as identified by the battery of tests. Insulin supplements endocrine problems in the case of diabetes. Also, this element re-establishes the normal levels of thyroid hormone in the case of thyroid malfunction. Doctors will also employ blood transfusion (serum, antibody preparations, etc.), occupational or physical therapy, or a variety of medicines from simple B12 to immunosuppressives medicines (corticosteroids and nonsteroids), etc.
Some medical practitioners suggested the use of non-traditional treatments. Moreover, they recommended the avoidance of certain foods and use of specific foods to foster recovery of the autoimmune system operation.
Living with Autoimmune Diseases
Out of a thousand people, 30 will have autoimmune disorders in the US. About 25 of them will be female. Potential “causative factors” have ranged from smoking to hair dye to a variety of infections, hormonal changes, silica exposures, etc. Some specialists stated that even things such as the relation of marriage stress can lead to immune system malfunctions. All in all, there are no definitive causative agents that predispose autoimmune diseases.
Nor are there definitive “on and off” switches identified to intervene in any autoimmune disorders. There are symptom onsets, remissions, and flare-ups, but given the presence of remissions, there is little to give insight into actual cure rates. In conclusion, reduction of inflammation remains a chief strategy to address symptoms.