My biggest challenge before getting the diagnosis I did, was just understanding what it all meant. I had no clue what chronic illness truly was, how autoimmune diseases effected your body, and certainly no clue what colitis even was. So it’s super frustrating and overwhelming when doctors just throw words out to you, expecting that you know what it all means.
Knowledge is key! So here is a quick lesson to help you out, or if you’re someone supporting an individual going through this it’s a great lesson for you as well!
Your immune system is designed to help defend your body against bad diseases. This is purposeful and important! When you have an autoimmune disease however, your immune system thinks your own healthy cells in your body are foreign entities that need to be eliminated. So basically your own body is attacking itself. It’s like when a dog or baby is scared of their reflection in a mirror because they don’t recognize themselves so they start hitting or barking at the image they see.
Currently there is no clear understanding of what causes this to happen in our bodies, but many theories have risen around why it happens. A big rule of thumb is if it runs in your family, you are more likely to develop it.
So what can it do?
- Can effect one or many types of tissues in your body
- Cause abnormal organ growth
- Change an organs function in your body
- Common organs it effects are: joints, muscles, skin, red blood cells, vesicles, connective tissue, and endocrine glands
- There are as many as 80 different autoimmune diseases!
- They usually have very similar symptoms which is why it can be hard to diagnose!
- Usually runs in the family
- You can have more than one at the same time
- People go through periods of remission (little to no symptoms) to flare-ups (symptoms start to arise and get worse)
- There is currently no curative therapy, so treatment usually involved managing symptoms
How is it diagnosed?
When your body is attacking itself, it is producing antibodies to attack its own tissue. Diagnosing often involves identifying some of these antibodies that your body is producing. This includes:
- Antibody tests
- Antinuclear antibodies test: looking specifically at the antibodies that attack the nuclei of cells
- A complete blood count: looking at the number of white and red blood cells in your body, because when your body is fighting off diseases these numbers vary from normal functioning
- C- reactive Protein (CRP): high levels of this is an indicator of inflammation
- Erythrocyte sedimentation rate: indirectly measures how much inflammation is in your body
By definition, this is a disease that persists more than 3 months and continues to persist. They generally cannot be prevented by vaccines, cured by medication, or just go away. Currently the leading chronic diseases that are the leading cause of disability include:
- Cardiovascular Diseases
- Colon cancer
- Epilepsy and seizures
There are so many others not mentioned here including mental illness, addiction, and so forth.
Autoimmune diseases are generally considered chronic illnesses because they will stay throughout your entire life. You will go through stages of remission where you may not feel symptoms for weeks, months, or even years! But you will always have it, meaning you will need to always manage it.
Someone once told me that an autoimmune disease is not life-threatening, just life-altering and that mantra has taken me pretty far through my process and learning how to cope!