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  • Writer's pictureJessica Frizzell, PA-C

An Autoimmune Disease Guide: The Impact of Autoimmunity

Autoimmune diseases are on the rise. According to the American Autoimmune Related Diseases Association, One in every five Americans have an autoimmune disease. Even more,

50 million Americans have an autoimmune disease and approximately 75% of people with an autoimmune disease are women (source: American Autoimmune Related Diseases Association)

Furthermore, the National Library of Medicine reports:

  • Of women in the United States, autoimmunity is the highest cause of morbidity

  • Of women under the age of 65, autoimmunity is among the top 10 causes of death

  • Diagnosing, treating, and managing patients with autoimmune diseases costs the healthcare system more than $100 billion each year

With more than 100 autoimmune diseases, it’s safe to say that autoimmune diseases are very much a part of our society.

And our team at Paducah Rheumatology is ready to help those battling health challenges due to autoimmune diseases.

What You Need To Know About Autoimmune Diseases

Here at Paducah Rheumatology, we are all about a patient-centered and team-based approach to providing the highest quality care possible. That’s why we feel patient education is a necessary component to disease management.

Information is empowering. Being diagnosed with an autoimmune disease can be frightening. Autoimmune diseases often come with plenty of unknowns, but knowledge gives you the power to make better informed decisions about your health care needs.

So let’s start at the beginning …

What is an autoimmune disease?

An autoimmune disease occurs when a person’s immune system attacks normal, healthy cells. Autoimmunity disrupts the immune system, essentially creating an immune system that is out of balance and not functioning properly.

What does an autoimmune disease do to your immune system?

The American Autoimmune Related Diseases Association further explains: “Autoimmunity can affect the body in various ways. It can result in the slow destruction of specific types of cells, tissues, organs or joints or the stimulation of an organ into excessive growth or interference with its function. Organs and tissues frequently affected include: the endocrine glands (such as the thyroid, pancreas and adrenal glands); components of the blood (such as red blood cells); and the connective tissues, skin, muscles and joints.”

What are some of the most common autoimmune diseases and their correlating symptoms?

RHEUMATOID ARTHRITIS: Rheumatoid arthritis is often referred to as RA. It is an autoimmune disease that primarily impacts a person’s joints, especially joints within the hands and feet.

Rheumatoid arthritis symptoms can come and go in their severity. Patients can experience periods of remission or moments of increased disease activity, known as RA flares, and certain triggers can bring on a flare-up.

It is a progressive disease divided into four different stages:

  • Early-stage RA

  • Moderate-stage RA

  • Severe-stage RA

  • End-stage RA

RA can progress to affect major organs, too. Those later stages tend to impact organs such as the lungs, heart, kidneys, and liver.

Managing rheumatoid arthritis can definitely come with its challenges, but early intervention is extremely helpful.

Also, it is important to note that fibromyalgia and rheumatoid arthritis have various overlapping symptoms, but they are not the same disease.

OSTEOARTHRITIS: Although rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis both contain the term “arthritis” in their name, these two conditions are drastically different.

In fact, osteoarthritis is not an autoimmune disease. Rather, osteoarthritis is a degenerative joint disease.

But since rheumatologists specialize in arthritis care and treat musculoskeletal diseases, a provider at Paducah Rheumatology can oversee your care and develop a treatment plan if you have osteoarthritis.

Similar to RA, specific triggers can worsen an individual’s arthritis symptoms. There are numerous ways to relieve arthritic pain and stiffness. It’s all about discovering what works best for you and your body.

GOUT: Gout is yet another type of arthritis - an inflammatory arthritis. To properly treat gout, it is critically important to understand why a person develops gout. It is not a degenerative disease of the joints and gout is not the same as pseudogout.

Gout is a result of elevated uric acid levels, causing urate crystals to form on the joints. This type of uric acid build-up leads to both short-term and long-term health complications.

Many patients manage their gout naturally by altering their diet, making different lifestyle choices, and watching their weight with regular exercise.

LUPUS: As an autoimmune disease, lupus is a chronic condition with an expansive range of symptoms - symptoms that can be mild to moderate or severe to life-threatening. A butterfly-shaped rash that appears across the face is commonly associated with lupus, plus skin rashes, skin lesions, and skin sun sensitivity.

Lupus has various forms, and each form comes with certain symptoms and specific treatment options, which makes lupus difficult to diagnose. Many people end up living with lupus for years before receiving an official diagnosis.

What should you do if you suspect you have an autoimmune disease?

Due to the progressive nature of autoimmune diseases, receiving the proper medical support is very important if you suspect you have an autoimmune disease. Furthermore, you should not stop visits to your rheumatologist once you receive a diagnosis. Continuous care is critical to decreasing disease progression.

Here at Paducah Rheumatology, we are accepting new patients with a physician’s referral. We also accept many types of medical insurance, including Medicare health insurance plans.

We take the time to get to know each one of our patients in order to provide personalized care and create individualized treatment plans. We understand that your symptoms, your diagnosis, and your autoimmunity journey will be unique to you.

Plus, we have our very own Infusion Suite if your treatment plan includes infusion therapy treatments.

Give us a call at 270-408-6100 to set up an appointment and check out the Paducah Rheumatology blog to learn more about what to expect at your first visit.

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