Autoimmune disease – a condition in which the immune system attacks the body’s normal substances and tissue – is an umbrella term for up to 100 illnesses. The conditions range from the familiar to the less well known. Among them are rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, Sjogren’s Syndrome (marked by dryness of tissue, including mouth and eyes) and Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis, a rare disorder that is often mistaken for an underactive thyroid.
Despite the huge differences, though, in the areas of the body affected by an autoimmune disease, and how they’re affected, there are some symptoms you can watch out for. Here’s a list:
Inflammation The National Institutes of Health lists pain, swelling, heat and inflammation as the “classic sign” of autoimmune disease. The malfunctioning immune system often attacks one part of the body – joints, in the case of arthritis. But it can also affect almost the whole body. In lupus, affected areas might include the skin and the heart.
Persistent Fever No matter what part of their body is being attacked, people who have an autoimmune disease often have a fever that lasts several days or more.
Extreme Fatigue If you are consistently tired despite getting enough rest and having a reasonable schedule of physical activity, it’s time to call the doctor. Fatigue is probably the most common symptom of autoimmune disease, indicating, among other conditions, chronic fatigue syndrome or rheumatoid arthritis.
Swollen Glands Signs of an autoimmune disease, especially rheumatoid arthritis, include swollen glands (also known as lymph nodes) in areas including the neck, groin, armpits, under the jaw and behind the ears.
Abdominal Pain And Diarrhea Crohn’s Disease, an inflammation in the small intestine, is marked by stomach pain that may or may not include diarrhea, according to the NIH. Even though the illness is concentrated in the digestive tract, it can also show up in other areas of the body: Mouth ulcers are common.
Itchy Skin Or Skin Rashes can be a symptom of several illnesses, including celiac disease, type 1 diabetes, psoriasis and lupus. According to the federal Office On Women’s Health, psoriasis may be accompanied by arthritis that affects the joints and the fingers and toes.
Tingling A pins-and-needles feeling in the feet, or a loss of feeling altogether, can indicate diabetes. Tingling in the legs, which may spread to the upper body, could be a symptom of Guillain-Barre Syndrome. A symptom of multiple sclerosis is tingling in several spots, including the arms, hands, legs and feet.
Changes In Weight Celiac disease, an intestinal inflammation caused by eating foods with gluten, can be marked by either weight loss or weight gain. Symptoms for Graves’ Disease, characterized by an overactive thyroid, include weight loss. Generally, be on the lookout for a weight loss or gain of 10 to 15 pounds.
Change In Skin Color With autoimmune hepatitis, skin or whites of the eyes can become yellow. In vitiligo, an ailment Michael Jackson said he had, skin can become white even inside the mouth.
Food Allergy In an allergic reaction to food, your body thinks that some foods you’ve eaten are harmful invaders. Conditions linked to food allergy include rheumatoid arthritis and celiac disease.
Because there are so many autoimmune diseases, and the symptoms are so variable and inconsistent, you’ll probably need to visit more than one physician. Often a family doctor will refer you to a specialist who is more experienced with this group of diseases. Don’t try to diagnose yourself without going to a medical doctor. Take a list of your symptoms and anything else the doctor should know, like your eating habits. It may take a while, but most autoimmune diseases can be managed to the point where they’re not disrupting your life.