What is an autoimmune disease?
The purpose of the immune system is to identify and eliminate threats to the body, such as bacterial, viral and fungal infections, foreign objects, or even the body’s own cells which are not functioning properly, such as cancer cells.
In autoimmune diseases, the immune system can malfunction and identify a normal healthy part of the body, such as skin cells or kidney cells, and attack them.
What are symptoms of an autoimmune disease?
Since virtually any part of the body is susceptible to autoimmunity, autoimmune diseases can manifest in many different ways.
Symptoms may include any of the following: inflammation of joints and muscles leading to joint or muscle pain and swelling, rashes, headaches, kidney disease, heart problems, lung disease, neurologic problems (which can present with numbness or tingling), hematologic diseases, weakness, and fatigue.
What are some types of autoimmune disease?
There are many autoimmune diseases that can manifest with one or many of the above symptoms. These include:
- Rheumatoid Arthritis
- Systemic Lupus Erythematosus (Lupus, SLE)
- Sjögren’s Syndrome
- Scleroderma (Systemic Sclerosis)
- Polymyalgia Rheumatica
- Adult Onset Still’s Disease
- Mixed Connective Tissue Disease
- Undifferentiated Connective Tissue Disease
- Raynaud’s Phenomenon
For a more comprehensive list of autoimmune disease, please click here for a list of more conditions we treat.
How is an autoimmune disease diagnosed?
Each autoimmune disease has a unique way to be diagnosed. Blood tests (including autoantibody testing), radiologic imaging, and sometimes tissue biopsies are used. However, testing alone is rarely enough to rule in or rule out an autoimmune disease. Blood tests and imaging need to be carefully interpreted in light of the situation. A detailed examination of signs and symptoms, along with a physical exam, and often monitoring over a period of time by a physician experienced in autoimmune disease is required. Not all features my be present at one time, and follow up is often required to make the right diagnosis. In certain cases, blood testing can be normal while an autoimmune disease is still present, and it is important that a patient has a doctor who will listen and investigate.
When should you see a Rheumatologist?
If a primary care physician or other health care provider suspects an autoimmune disease, a Rheumatologist should be seen. Or if you are experiencing some of the above symptoms with no diagnosis, you should talk to your doctor about considering a rheumatologic evaluation.