Sunday, October 9, 2016

The Basics Of An Autoimmune Disease


    I am in several support groups online. Some for pain, some for Sjogren’s, some for MCTD… What they all have in common is the fact that we are all chronically ill, and most are diagnosed with at least one Autoimmune disease. So I thought I’d discuss what the nature of an Autoimmune (AI) disease is in the hopes that it would make our world at least a little easier to understand.
    First, AI diseases are NOT the same as AIDS. Yes, they both affect the immune system, but AIDS is a virus that attacks the immune system itself, and AI diseases cause the immune system to attack the body of the person who has. Which AI disease a person has, put really simply, is based on which body parts or systems the immune system attacks. So-I have Sjogren’s, it attacks the moisture producing centers of the body, RA attacks connective tissue, Myositis attacks muscle fiber-get it?
    Second, all AI diseases are considered inflammatory. This is because the basic mechanism of the disease is the immune system. Our immune system serves the basic purpose of defending the body against illness and disease. It senses foreign cells in our system, produces extra immune cells, attacks and kills them. But it also causes swelling. Our body senses pain, and assuming the cause is a foreign agent, does the same thing. Again, a very, very basic description, but accurate.
     How does this make AI diseases inflammatory? For me, my body does not recognise the glands that make tears or saliva. (There’s a lot more, but keeping it simple here.) Every now and then, for reasons I do not understand, my immune system attacks these glands. This is called a flare up by the way. When it does so, because extra cells are produced to fight an enemy that isn’t there, my body swells up. This is why joint pain is so prevalent in the world of AI sufferers even when they do not have RA.
     Next, the best way to stay healthy longer is to avoid flare ups. You see, each time our body has a flare up, it is being attacked. Each attack increases the amount of damage being done. That damage cannot be undone. In my case, I can no longer cry. Good at sad movies, really bad at funerals. And since these diseases are incurable, flare ups will continue throughout our lives. Remember, we cannot control these flare ups. Doing chores will not bring one on and avoiding chores will not guarantee flares will stay away. But there are options.
     I am a believer of using prescription medications. My theory is that we need to do something to keep our immune system turned down, or at least part of it. AI prescriptions are designed to do just that. There are not yet such individualized treatments as a pill for Sjogren’s, another for RA, and yet a different one for Lupus, but progress is being made. By using a medication to assist me in having the fewest flare ups possible, I feel like I am giving my body the best chance at staying as whole as possible for as long as possible. But remember, this is my opinion.
    Some people do not agree with my opinion about prescription medications and prefer a more natural route to deal with their AI disease. Researching vitamin and herbal supplements can shed light on how helpful these can be as well as how many are out there. As this is not my forte, I will say that you should consult a doctor or nutritionist and always look into the quality of the supplements you use. I do use several supplements, but they are basic and doctor recommended such as Fish Oil for swelling, magnesium for headaches, and B-12 for energy. Calcium and Vit D are also on my list. But many people use supplements that I’ve never heard with wonderful results.     
    There are also dietary changes that can help keep AI flare ups at bay. Sugar is known to cause diffuse whole body inflammation. So is white bread. Avoiding these foods so as not to set of a flare up can be extremely helpful in managing AI issues. There are also foods such as pineapple that are great at reducing inflammation. Increasing these while decreasing inflammation causing foods is a powerful tool in managing AI diseases.
    Hopefully, this has shed a bit of light on the nature of Autoimmune diseases and their inflammatory nature. Their is no rhyme or reason as to who gets them, when, or why and the same goes for flare ups once a diagnosis has been made. Any bit of understanding the community in general can gain makes our lives a bit easier!

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