Autoimmune diseases occur when the immune system, which typically protects the body from infections, mistakenly attacks its own tissues. Unfortunately, autoimmune diseases have become more and more prevalent. Recognizing the early signs and symptoms is important for timely diagnosis and management.

Possible Signs of Autoimmune Diseases

Autoimmune diseases can affect various parts of the body, leading to a wide range of symptoms. While symptoms can vary greatly depending on the specific disease, some common signs to watch for include:

  1. Chronic Fatigue: Persistent and unexplained fatigue that doesn’t improve with rest can be a sign of an autoimmune condition. Diseases like lupus, multiple sclerosis, and rheumatoid arthritis often manifest with chronic fatigue.
  2. Joint Pain and Swelling: Pain, stiffness, and swelling in the joints are common in autoimmune diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis and lupus. This discomfort is often worse in the morning or after periods of inactivity.
  3. Skin Changes: Unexplained rashes, redness, or other skin changes can be indicative of autoimmune diseases. For instance:
    • A butterfly-shaped rash across the cheeks and nose is characteristic of lupus.
    • Dry, scaly patches are common in psoriasis.
    • Blistering rashes might suggest dermatitis herpetiformis, associated with celiac disease.
  4. Digestive Issues: Chronic digestive problems, such as abdominal pain, bloating, diarrhea, or constipation, can be signs of autoimmune diseases like celiac disease or inflammatory bowel disease (IBD).
  5. Recurring Fever: Frequent, low-grade fevers without an obvious cause can be a sign of an underlying autoimmune process.
  6. Hair Loss: Sudden and unexplained hair loss can occur in autoimmune conditions like alopecia areata or lupus.
  7. Numbness and Tingling: Neurological symptoms such as numbness, tingling, or weakness, particularly in the hands and feet, can be associated with diseases like multiple sclerosis or peripheral neuropathy in diabetes.
  8. Swollen Glands: Enlarged lymph nodes or glands can indicate an autoimmune response, particularly in conditions like Sjögren’s syndrome or lupus.
  9. Heat or Cold Sensitivity: Extreme sensitivity to temperature changes can be a symptom of autoimmune thyroid diseases like Hashimoto’s thyroiditis (cold sensitivity) or Graves’ disease (heat sensitivity).
  10. Difficulty Concentrating: Cognitive issues, sometimes referred to as “brain fog,” can be a symptom of autoimmune diseases like lupus, fibromyalgia, or multiple sclerosis.

Testing for Autoimmune Diseases

When signs and symptoms suggest the presence of an autoimmune disease, various tests can help in diagnosing and managing these conditions. Here is a summary of common tests used:

  • Antinuclear Antibody (ANA) TestThe ANA test detects antinuclear antibodies in the blood. A positive result may indicate an autoimmune disease such as lupus or rheumatoid arthritis.
  • Rheumatoid Factor (RF) and Anti-Cyclic Citrullinated Peptide (anti-CCP) AntibodiesThese tests are used to diagnose rheumatoid arthritis. RF is an antibody found in many RA patients, while anti-CCP is more specific to RA and helps confirm the diagnosis.
  • Erythrocyte Sedimentation Rate (ESR) and C-Reactive Protein (CRP)These tests measure inflammation in the body. Elevated ESR and CRP levels indicate the presence of inflammation, common in many autoimmune diseases.
  • Thyroid AntibodiesTests for thyroid antibodies help diagnose autoimmune thyroid diseases. Elevated levels of thyroid peroxidase antibodies (TPO) suggest Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, while thyroid-stimulating immunoglobulin (TSI) points to Graves’ disease.
  • Anti-DsDNA and Anti-Sm AntibodiesThese antibodies are specific for systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE). High levels of anti-dsDNA and the presence of anti-Sm antibodies strongly suggest SLE.
  • Complement Levels (C3, C4)Complement proteins like C3 and C4 are measured to assess immune system activity. Low levels can indicate active autoimmune disease, particularly in lupus.
  • HLA TypingHLA typing identifies genetic markers associated with certain autoimmune diseases, such as HLA-B27 with ankylosing spondylitis.
  • MRI and Imaging StudiesImaging studies, particularly MRI, are essential in diagnosing neurological autoimmune diseases like multiple sclerosis, revealing characteristic lesions in the brain and spinal cord.

Recognizing the signs and symptoms of autoimmune diseases early on is crucial for effective management and treatment. It is important to note however that symptoms of autoimmune diseases can have a variety of other causes as they are often non-specific. For example, fatigue and hair loss may be caused by an iron deficiency, while tingling in the hands and feet could be the result of a B12 deficiency.

Consulting with a Naturopathic Doctor can help direct investigations based on your individual health presentation and history in order to determine the root cause of your symptoms. Integrating the insights obtained with a holistic health approach can then lead to better outcomes and improved well-being!

Looking for support? Book your FREE 15-minute discovery call with Dr. Sylvie Smets today.