The body is such a wonder because it can protect itself from foreign bodies. It has the immune system which is essential for survival. This vast network of tissues and cells is on-call 24/7 checking for viruses, bacteria or even parasites that may threaten the entire body. It is the immune system’s job to keep us healthy as we go on with our lives which may be filled with pathogens.
The body’s defenders
The immune system is composed mainly of the lymph nodes, spleen, bone marrow, lymphocytes, leukocytes, and thymus. Each has its own role in protecting the body and attacking anything unusual that’s bound to happen. The immune system is divided into innate and adaptive immunity. The innate immunity is present at birth and consists of barriers that keep foreign threats outside the body. Main components are the skin and stomach acid, as well as the enzymes found in skin oils and tears. Mucus and the cough reflex are also part of the innate immunity which is non-specific. Substances such as interleukin-1 and interferon are also part of the body’s innate defense.
The adaptive or acquired immunity, on the other hand, is more complex as it targets the specific threats to the body. Before these “fighters” do their job, the body needs to process and recognize the threat before creating antibodies which are specifically designed to that threat. Once the threat is neutralized, this immunity remembers it and responds similarly and more effectively when the threat shows up again in the future.
When the immune system mistakenly attacks your body, a condition called autoimmune disease occurs. It releases autoantibodies that target healthy cells instead of foreign bodies. In the world, there are over 700 million people estimated to acquire such disease. Autoimmune diseases cases have risen through the years and should not be taken for granted.
Risks of autoimmune diseases
Medical professionals and researchers cannot pinpoint why for some people, the immune system does not function properly. But according to statistics, women get autoimmune diseases more than men. About 78% of autoimmune diseases occur in women. This usually occurs during the woman’s childbearing years, ages 14 to 44. Other experts believe that it must be due to higher levels of hormones in women as compared to men.
Another thing that experts say is that there are certain groups that are most likely hit by this disease like lupus affects African-Americans and Hispanic individuals than Caucasians. There are over 23.5 million Americans diagnosed with autoimmune diseases at present. Race and ethnicity, though not yet fully backed up with research, may increase the risk of getting the disease.
Researchers also say that autoimmune diseases are hereditary. So those who have this disease will put the succeeding generations at higher risk in acquiring it. Though genetics alone is not enough to cause the disease. There may be other factors that work together with genetics to make the immune system attack itself.
Exposure to chemicals and infections are some of the environmental factors that make the immune system dysfunction. When your body detects danger from an infection, the immune system wakes up and attack the foreign bodies. However, during this “battle”, there are actually healthy cells and tissues caught up in the middle, and this is when an autoimmune disease occurs. An example would be rheumatoid arthritis, in which the body itself attacks the cells in the joints.
Another probable risk is an injury. According to medical professionals, when a certain part of the body experiences high levels of stress, an autoimmune response occurs. An example would be the runner’s heel. This is an area in which the muscle is always pulling the bone to create some movement. Due to repeated stress and if the tissue is exposed (like a wound), blood cells will normally try to heal it. Otherwise, an abnormal immune response will make the joints and tendons inflamed.
There may be a lot of research about how an autoimmune disease occurs, but medical experts still cannot prove it black and white.
Symptoms to watch out for
There are early signs and symptoms if one has an autoimmune disease such as:
- Sore, achy muscles
- Redness and swelling
- Low-grade fever
- Numbness and tingling in the feet and hands
- Hair loss
Since there are over 80 autoimmune diseases to date, each has its own unique symptoms. An example would be psoriasis, symptoms usually come and go and have flare-ups or remissions.
Aside from consulting with the best autoimmune doctors in your area, there are experts who developed a health app for iOs and Android, such as CareClinic. With advanced technology, creators of the app have made it convenient for patients and doctors to work with each other in creating an appropriate treatment plan. This may be used for food and symptom tracking when you suspect you have an autoimmune disease.
The app is able to store valuable data, such as measurements that are needed in making a treatment option. Symptoms may be accurately tracked every day and medications will be prescribed well. With the app, it is easy for you and your doctor to make some adjustments to your therapy depending on your records.
How hard to get diagnosed?
There is no single examination to rule out autoimmune diseases. That’s why patients find it frustrating if they are not diagnosed properly. The first test done to most patients is the antinuclear antibody test or ANA. When the test is positive, it means you have an autoimmune disease but there is no clear confirmation as to what exact disease you have.
Patients also undergo a thorough physical examination and should accurately disclose their family medical history. Biopsies and x-rays may also be done to rule out autoimmune diseases.
Most patients can go to up to 5 doctors until properly diagnosed with an autoimmune disease. This is because the symptoms may overlap with other autoimmune diseases and non-autoimmune diseases.
If it is hard to diagnose an autoimmune disease, treating it would also be very tricky. Most doctors, though, focus on controlling the autoimmune reaction with the following:
- Corticosteroids – this is given to reduce inflammation in the body such as acute flares
- Anti-inflammatory drugs – to alleviate pain and inflammation
- Painkillers – paracetamol and codeine are usually prescribed
- Immunosuppressants – to inhibit the activity of the immune system
- High dose immunosuppression – this is given when intervention is done at an early stage to gain promising results
- Treatment for the specific deficiency – insulin injections to diabetic patients
Aside from being given synthetic medications, doctors would also suggest physical therapy to increase mobility. For severe cases, surgery is recommended especially for those having Crohn’s disease. Surgery is performed to treat bowel blockage.
Having a healthy diet is also one way of alleviating the symptoms, but this has to be first approved by your specialist to rule out some allergies and other conditions you might be having. According to experts, having a plant-based diet can significantly improve the signs and symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis or RA. To have a healthy gut, taking healthy probiotics can make a big difference. Anti-inflammatory food and those that maintain the immune system include leafy greens, mushrooms, onions, squash, turnips, and rutabaga. Spices also play a major role in boosting the immune system. Ginger, cayenne pepper, garlic, cinnamon, and turmeric can help minimize inflammation.
Stay on track with CareClinic
Everything may seem so hard when it comes to managing an autoimmune disease and living with it is indeed a challenge. Morbidity rates do not look good that’s why science and technology must be doing something about it to lower it down. But if you have CareClinic, you might be able to relax and let the app do the tracking for you. It helps patients monitor symptoms on a daily basis. There is also an option on putting a scale on a particular symptom so that your doctor will be able to take note of your symptoms accurately. Color coordination is very helpful to avoid confusion with different symptoms that you may be experiencing simultaneously.
Aside from that, CareClinic has a medication reminder in which periodic or daily notifications pop up or vibrate on your smartphone. Even if the medications are only to alleviate the symptoms, strict adherence must be done by patients. This ensures that the full dose is taken at the right time. Missed medications will result in ineffective treatment or your body will not respond well anymore. This is also one of the reasons why a lot of people live their life suffering from the disease even more.
Aside from medication reminders, the app also sends notifications on when your next clinic visit or physical therapy is. Following a schedule is crucial in making your therapy effective. At the end of the month, all significant information that you have logged in can be printed into a report. You can bring this health summary to your doctor and discuss changes or adjustments in your treatment plan. CareClinic was not only created to record details regarding your specific autoimmune disease, but also an aid to living a healthy life.