Do You Have Autoimmune Disease Symptoms?

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An autoimmune disease is defined as a condition that results from your immune system wrongly attacking your own own organs, tissues, glands, or cells.

Depending on the source you cite, there are at least 80 to more than 100 different conditions that are considered to be autoimmune. Some of these conditions include two common thyroid conditions: Hashimoto's thyroiditis and Graves' disease.

In addition, other common autoimmune diseases include:

What Are the Causes of Autoimmune Diseases? 

The causes of autoimmune disease for the most part are unknown. But it's thought that hormones, genetics and heredity, toxic exposures, chronic infection and inflammation, and stress are all factors that play a role in development of autoimmune diseases. Some autoimmune diseases are known to begin or worsen with certain triggers such as viral infections. Sunlight not only acts as a trigger for lupus but can worsen the course of the disease. It is important to be aware of the factors that can be avoided to help prevent or minimize the amount of damage from the autoimmune disease.

Other less understood influences affecting the immune system and the course of autoimmune diseases include aging, chronic stress, hormones, and pregnancy. 

No autoimmune disease has ever been shown to be contagious or "catching." Autoimmune diseases do not spread to other people like infections. They are not related to AIDS, nor are they a type of cancer.

 

Having one autoimmune disease puts you at risk of developing other autoimmune diseases and means that your immediate family members—parents, siblings, children—are also at risk of developing autoimmune diseases.

The genes people inherit contribute to their susceptibility for developing an autoimmune disease. Certain diseases such as psoriasis can occur among several members of the same family. This suggests that a specific gene or set of genes predisposes a family member to psoriasis. In addition, individual family members with autoimmune diseases may inherit and share a set of abnormal genes, although they may develop different autoimmune diseases. For example, one sibling may have lupus, another may have Crohn's disease, and the mother may have rheumatoid arthritis. 

Statistics About Autoimmune Disease 

Here are some key statistics from the American Autoimmune Related Diseases Association (AARDA):

  • The National Institutes of Health (NIH) estimates up to 23.5 million Americans suffer from autoimmune disease, but AARDA believes that number is actually 50 million and rising. This is in comparison to 9 million Americans with cancer and 22 million with heart disease.
  • Beyond the 80 to 100 conditions identified as autoimmune, there are 40 other diseases thought to be autoimmune in nature.
  • Autoimmune disease is one of the top 10 leading causes of death in girls and women up to the age of 64.
  • Autoimmune diseases have a genetic component and tend to run in families.
  • A typical autoimmune patient sees as many as five different doctors over five or more years before getting a correct disease diagnosis.

Key Autoimmune Symptoms 

Across the board, certain symptoms have been identified as common to most autoimmune conditions. These include the following:

  • joint and muscle pain
  • general muscle weakness
  • infections: greater susceptibility and more frequent infections—such as urinary tract, bladder, gum, skin or vaginal infections, as well as viruses—and slower recovery from those infections
  • rashes
  • fatigue
  • low-grade fever
  • numbness/tingling in hands/feet
  • dry eyes/dry mouth
  • weight loss: 10-15 pound range
  • hair loss
  • shortness of breath: both general, and on exertion, feeling the need to yawn to get a full breath, or heaviness in the chest that makes breathing more difficult.
  • palpitations: feeling missed heartbeats, changes in rhythm, skipped beats, irregular heart rhythms, and other types of palpitations
  • recurrent miscarriage
  • depression
  • concentration/memory problems: difficulty thinking and concentrating, or"brain fog"
     

Detailed Autoimmune Risk Factors and Symptoms

The following is a more detailed list of frequently-noticed symptoms of autoimmune conditions, as well as some of the diseases most associated with these symptoms. This list is by no means exhaustive, but it covers many of the common autoimmune symptoms. Carefully looking at this list—and the list of common symptoms above—and taking it to your doctor can be an important first step in getting appropriate testing and the right medical diagnosis.

Fever / Body Temperature

  • elevated fever, higher body temperature – lupus, Graves' disease/hyperthyroidism, celiac disease/gluten intolerance/irritable bowel syndrome
  • feeling cold when others feel hot – Hashimoto's
  • feeling hot when others feel cold – Graves' disease/hyperthyroidism
  • low body temperature – Hashimoto's

Hair

  • hair loss, round bald patches on the scalp – alopecia areata
  • hair loss, loss of facial and scalp hair – alopecia totalis, Hashimoto's, Graves' disease/hyperthyroidism, lupus male patterned baldness – Hashimoto's, Graves' disease/hyperthyroidism, polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS)
  • excess hair growth on the face faces, necks, chests, abdomens, and thighs, in women – cushing's disease, polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS)
  • loss of hair in outer eyebrow – Hashimoto's
  • hair is rough, coarse dry, breaking, brittle – Hashimoto's, Graves' disease/hyperthyroidism


Skin

  • hyperpigmentation, or dark tanning in skin – Addison's disease
  • painful skin rash, called dermatitis herpetiformis – celiac disease/gluten intolerance/irritable bowel syndrome
  • fragile thin skin – Cushing's disease
  • skin that bruises easily – Cushing's disease
  • acne – polycystic ovary syndrome (pcos), Hashimoto's
  • skin rashes, especially "butterfly rash" on the nose and cheeks – lupus
  • sun sensitivity – lupus
  • skin thickening – scleroderma
  • skin ulcers on the fingers – scleroderma

Eyes

  • dry eyes – sjogren's syndrome, Hashimoto's, Graves' disease/hyperthyroidism
  • blurred vision – Sjogren's syndrome, Hashimoto's, Graves' disease/hyperthyroidism, multiple sclerosis
  • eye discomfort or pain – Sjogren's syndrome, Hashimoto's, Graves' disease/hyperthyroidism, multiple sclerosis
  • nystagmus or jerking, rapid involuntary eye movement – multiple sclerosis, Hashimoto's
  • optic neuritis, inflammation of the nerves in the eye – multiple sclerosis
  • unclear or double vision – Graves' disease/hyperthyroidism, multiple sclerosis

Throat, Neck, Voice, Mouth

  • dry mouth – Sjogren's syndrome
  • hoarseness, husky or gravelly voice – Sjogren's syndrome, Hashimoto's, Graves' disease/hyperthyroidism
  • difficulty in swallowing – Sjogren's syndrome, Hashimoto's, Graves' disease/hyperthyroidism
  • mouth and nose sores – lupus
  • pale sores inside the mouth, called aphthus ulcers – celiac disease/gluten intolerance/irritable bowel syndrome
  • fullness or pressure, choking sensation in throat, lump in the neck – Hashimoto's, Graves' disease/hyperthyroidism

Fatigue, Sleep

  • chronic fatigue, fatigue that is not alleviated by rest – Addison's disease, Hashimoto's, celiac disease/gluten intolerance/irritable bowel syndrome, chronic fatigue syndrome, Sjogren's syndrome, lupus, type 1 diabetes
  • insomnia – Graves' disease/hyperthyroidism
  • exhaustion after minimal effort or exercise – fibromyalgia, Hashimoto's, Graves' disease/hyperthyroidism, chronic fatigue syndrome, Sjogren's syndrome, lupus

Muscles, Joints, Tendons

  • pain and tenderness throughout the body - fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue syndrome, lupus, sjogren's syndrome
  • muscle weakness – Addison's disease, Hashimoto's, Graves' disease/hyperthyroidism, fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue syndrome
  • joint stiffness – scleroderma, rheumatoid arthritis, fibromyalgia
  • bone, joint and muscle aches, inflammation, and pains – celiac disease/gluten intolerance/irritable bowel syndrome, Cushing's disease, lupus, Sjogren's syndrome, rheumatoid arthritis
  • backaches, unexplained rib and spinal column fractures – Cushing's disease
  • deformed joints – rheumatoid arthritis
  • carpal-tunnel syndrome / tendinitis – Hashimoto's

Hands and Feet

  • Raynaud's phenomenon – (extreme sensitivity to cold in the hands and feet) – lupus, Hashimoto's, Graves' disease/hyperthyroidism
  • swelling in hands and feet – lupus, scleroderma, Hashimoto's

Weight Changes

  • weight loss – Addison's disease, Graves' disease/hyperthyroidism, celiac disease/gluten intolerance/irritable bowel syndrome, lupus, type 1 diabetes
  • weight gain – Cushing's disease, Graves' disease/hyperthyroidism, Hashimoto's, chronic fatigue syndrome, celiac disease/gluten intolerance/irritable bowel syndrome
  • weight gain in upper body, abdomen – Cushing's disease, polycystic ovary syndrome (pcos)
  • rounded or puffy face – Cushing's disease, Hashimoto's
  • increased fat around the neck – Cushing's disease
  • thinning arms and legs – Cushing's disease


Digestion, Gastrointestinal

  • nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea – Addison's disease, Graves' disease/hyperthyroidism, celiac disease/gluten intolerance/irritable bowel syndrome, scleroderma, type 1 diabetes
  • recurring abdominal bloating and pain – celiac disease/gluten intolerance/irritable bowel syndrome
  • pale, foul-smelling stool – celiac disease/gluten intolerance/irritable bowel syndrome
  • gas – celiac disease/gluten intolerance/irritable bowel syndrome
  • increased urination – type 1 diabetes
  • constipation – Hashimoto's


Pulse/Blood Pressure

  • low blood pressure – Addison's disease, Hashimoto's
  • high blood pressure – Cushing's disease, Graves' disease/hyperthyroidism, Hashimoto's, polycystic ovary syndrome (pcos)
  • slow pulse – Hashimoto's
  • fast pulse – Graves' disease/hyperthyroidism


Mood, Thinking

  • irritability, anxiety and depression – Addison's disease, celiac disease/gluten intolerance/irritable bowel syndrome, Cushing's disease, Graves' disease/hyperthyroidism, Hashimoto's
  • "brain fog," difficulty concentrating, forgetfulness – Graves' disease/hyperthyroidism, Hashimoto's, fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue syndrome


Balance, Coordination, Neurological Symptoms

  • lack of coordination or unsteady gait – multiple sclerosis
  • dizziness, vertigo – multiple sclerosis, Hashimoto's
  • numbness, weakness, tingling or paralysis in one or more limbs – multiple sclerosis, type 1 diabetes
  • tremor – multiple sclerosis, Graves' disease/hyperthyroidism

Food/Drink & Cravings

  • craving of salty foods – Addison's disease
  • increased thirst – type 1 diabetes
  • loss of appetite – Addison's disease, Graves' disease/hyperthyroidism


Menstruation/Gynecological - Women

  • irregular or absent menstrual periods – Addison's disease, Graves' disease/hyperthyroidism, Hashimoto's, celiac disease/gluten intolerance/irritable bowel syndrome, Cushing's disease, polycystic ovary syndrome (pcos) 
  • cysts on ovaries – polycystic ovary syndrome (pcos)


Fertility and Sex Drive, Pregnancy

  • infertility or decreased fertility in women – Graves' disease/hyperthyroidism, Hashimoto's, polycystic ovary syndrome (pcos)
  • decreased fertility in men – Cushing's disease
  • reduced sex drive – Cushing's disease, Graves' disease/hyperthyroidism, Hashimoto's 
  • recurrent miscarriage – Graves' disease/hyperthyroidism, Hashimoto's, antiphospholipid syndrome​

Breathing

  • increase in snoring – Hashimoto's
  • shortness of breath and tightness in the chest – Hashimoto's


Especially in Children

  • delayed growth in children, failure to thrive in infants – celiac disease/gluten intolerance/irritable bowel syndrome, Cushing's disease, Hashimoto's


Blood Changes

  • unexplained anemia (low count of red blood cells) – celiac disease/gluten intolerance/irritable bowel syndrome
  • high cholesterol levels – Hashimoto's


Blood Sugar Changes

  • hypoglycemia/low blood sugar – Addison's disease, Hashimoto's, type 1 diabetes
  • high blood sugar- cushing's disease, polycystic ovary syndrome (pcos), type 1 diabetes

Sources:

Fairweather, DeLisa  and Rose, Noel. "Women and Autoimmune Diseases." Emerging Infectious Diseases (EID) Journal. International Conference on Women and Infectious Diseases (ICWID). Volume 10, Number 11—November 2004 

MedlinePlus/U.S. National Library of Medicine, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services National Institutes of Health "Autoimmune Diseases." https://medlineplus.gov/autoimmunediseases.html 

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