How Do You Know You Have an Autoimmune Disease?
So many people in the United States are suffering from health issues....obesity, heart conditions, migraines, brain fog, pain, excessive fatigue, gut issues....the list goes on.
Come on, I bet you're reading this because you have questions about some issues you have?!
Autoimmune disease...where do we start. They get missed frequently by doctors because the symptoms can be all over the place, and the early warning signs non-specific. In conventional medicine, the doctors see you as being "in-range" or "normal. With that being said, it's no wonder that over 24 million Americans are affected by autoimmune disease, making it one of the most prevalent diseases in the U.S.
It makes me cringe when clients come to me finally diagnosed when Hashimoto’s, Lupus, or Rheumatoid Arthritis is full blown, and it easily could have been caught months or years sooner - at a point we could have reversed it or slowed it down (usually by tweaking their lifestyle).
So many of us reading this, already know what autoimmune diseases are. There are over 80 different types of known autoimmune diseases, such as Type 1 diabetes and multiple sclerosis, that attack different parts of your body. Cool, well not really.
But what many of us want to know, is what CAUSES autoimmunity? And why in some people and not others? Can they be cured - or are you destined to have an autoimmune condition and then contract more?
So how do you know if you have an autoimmune disease without waiting days or weeks for a doctor to maybe tell you?
Random rashes or eczema-like skin Your skin is THE best mirror of your gut health aka inflammation in your body. So if you are seeing red, itchy patches of skin that come and go randomly, this can be an early warning sign of autoimmune diseases like lupus or psoriasis, even food sensitivities! This shows there's some kind of underlying hyperactivity of your immune system - typically caused by excess sugar, gluten, dairy and soy in the diet.
Persistent brain fog Oh the dreaded brain fog! The foggy and exhausted feeling...despite getting 8+ hours of sleep - you know it: the reach-for-the-5th-cup-of-caffeinated-beverage-and-still-want-a-nap-because-you-can't-think-clear feeling. Sometimes, moreso for women, fatigue is a sign of anemia, which actually shows us a type of low blood count that develops when there is inflammation in the body. Crazy huh? So, think of giving blood but cant because your iron is too low? May be a sign of autoimmune deficiency.
Tummy issues No one (maybe I'm wrong) likes spending time in the bathroom because their stomach is all out of whack. Especially for no reason (I mean if you had a really fun night filled with all kinds of food and drink that you usually don't have, that's ok). But if you're have daily stomach pain and your intestines feel like they are constantly in this knot, or you are running to the bathroom multiple times for what seems like no reason, well autoimmune diseases like Crohn’s and Celiac may be the culprit. It’s better to catch these conditions early because the longer they persist, the more damage they do to the digestive tract. And I think we kinda need our digestive system?
Dreaded weight gain Ok, this one is definitely for the ladies....we all feel like we gain weight as we get older and during that time of month, or after a glass of wine the night before, but you may actually have a thyroid condition. Hypothyroidism affects 1 in 8 women over the course of their life. It can be caused by nutrient deficiencies, chronic stress (which is HUGE in autoimmune diseases), and unwanted inflammation. Most conventional doctors won't routinely test for thyroid antibodies but I strongly believe, along with doctors I partner with, that they should be tested at least once a year for every woman. If caught early and addressed with functional medicine these thyroid antibodies will go away entirely, or at least stabilize and not cause further thyroid destruction (and by the way, usually we can do this through adjusting your nutrition, stress and sleep!).
Here's the thing....there isn't just one test that tells you that you may or may not have an autoimmune disease. It's a combination of multiple tests and a comprehensive medical history (and you'd be amazed at how many things are involved in your medical history!). The best way to start the process after the full medical history, is to check for inflammation markers, typically from running ESR or CRP, especially for rheumatoid arthritis or celiac disease.
One test that many conventional doctors miss running is microbiome testing. Why? They aren't taught that most of our immune system lives in our gut! And here's the thing: gut dysbiosis, or imbalances in the good and bad bacteria in your gut, often exist in those with an autoimmune disease. WHOA! Did you know that?! With our Standard American Diet (SAD), to be honest, it's no surprise. So, if a microbiome disruption is found, our first line of intervention should be to treat the gut through diet, supplements, and other lifestyle changes.
There are a few other tests I like to have my clients run in addition, such as heavy metal toxicity, liver and kidney function and vitamin and mineral levels. Because why? Well, 25% of patients with an autoimmune disease are likely develop an additional autoimmune disease in the future, so we want to head those off!
Women are twice as likely as men to develop an autoimmune disorder, so symptoms are not to be taken lightly as women and experiencing any of the following, such as, unexplained rashes, body aches, fatigue, brain fog, belly pain, weight gain, or hair loss.
Once diagnosed with an autoimmune disorder, your body becomes more susceptible to developing an additional autoimmune disorder, so please make sure your primary care provider is covering all the bases when running tests.
My biggest piece of advice: Don’t let an autoimmune disease stop you from living your life. I've lived with a rare one for more than half my life now, and have been near-death way too many times. While it might be frustrating at first to find what works best for you- especially when it comes to managing symptoms, I'm here to help guide you in learning how to live healthy, fulfilling lives, and perhaps we can reverse your conditions!
Let's work together and keep on designing the best YOU!