How will I know whether I might have an autoimmune disorder?
There are certain signs and symptoms that you may experience if you have an autoimmune diseases. You may have a few of these symptoms or a combination of many. You could have fatigue, low fever, joint pain, inflammations, weakness, cold or heat intolerance, tremors, weakness of muscles, numbness in hands and toes, hair loss, rapid heart beat, nervousness, white patches inside your mouth, dry eyes, skin or mouth, constipation or diarrhoea, rapid weight loss or weight gain, scaling or rashes of the skin, in particular a butterfly shaped red rash on the face.
There are so many symptoms and many of them are so vague. How will I know whether the symptoms I have are because of an autoimmune disorder?
If you have one or many of these symptoms you should consult a doctor who will take a detailed family and medical history, look at your symptoms, check your body and come to some conclusion as to the possibility of an autoimmune disorder. If the doctor suspects a particular disorder he could ask for some tests or he could start treatment straight away.
What are the tests that may be advised?
Most likely you will need a battery of tests. The tests usually advised are blood tests such as a haemogram in which the hemoglobin may be reduced and ESR may be high. The albumin/ globulin ratio may be reversed, the VDRL may be a false positive. More specific tests are the antinuclear antibody (ANA) or anti nuclear factor (ANF) tests, the anti DNA antibodies tests such as anti SS and anti DS tests and certain coagulation tests. There are more specific tests for specific disorders.
Which are the common autoimmune diseases?
Rheumatoid arthritis in which there is inflammation, redness, warmth, swelling, and pain of the joints. The eyes, heart and lungs may also be affected. Unlike osteoarthritis which affects the elderly rheumatoid arthritis targets younger people.
Systemic lupus erythematosus (lupus) in which the skin, joints, lungs, blood cells, nerves, and kidneys and other organs are commonly affected.
Ulcerative colitis and Crohn's disease both included in IBD or inflammatory bowel disease which cause episodes of diarrhea, rectal bleeding, urgent bowel movements, abdominal pain, fever, and weight loss.
Multiple sclerosis (MS) that can cause pain, blindness, weakness, poor coordination, muscle spasms and difficulty in walking by damaging the myelin sheaths of nerves.
Type 1 Diabetes Mellitus that affects the pancreas primarily causing a reduction in insulin production leading to high blood glucose levels.
Scleroderma which affects the skin and other structures. Features include scarring and thickening of the skin, skin ulcers and stiff joints.
Guillain-Barre syndrome and chronic inflammatory demyelinating polyneuropathy which cause weakness in the muscles of the legs, arms and body.
Psoriasis affects the skin causing silvery or red scaling of the skin. Psoriasis also affects the joints causing stiffness and pain.
Graves' disease or hyperthyroidism causing bulging eyes, weight loss, nervousness, irritability, rapid heart rate, weakness, and brittle hair.
Hashimoto's thyroiditis or hypothyroidism causing fatigue, constipation, weight gain, depression, dry skin, and sensitivity to cold.
Addison's disease which affects the adrenal glands causing fatigue, weight loss and low blood sugar.
Sjögren's syndrom which causes dry mouth, dry eyes and joint pains.
Myasthenia Gravis which causes muscle weakness which gets worse in exertion.
Vasculitis in which the blood vessels anywhere in the body are affected. The inflammation causes the vessels to narrow down and reduces blood flow through them affecting the end organs or tissues.
Pernicious Anaemia in which Vit B 12 is unable to be absorbed from the intestines leading to deficiencies.
Celiac disease or gluten sensitivity causing diarrhoea and abdominal pain.