One of the most common questions asked when a person is first diagnosed with an autoimmune disease (AD) is, is autoimmune disease curable?
In a word, no — despite what some bloggers and practitioners say. However, you can manage autoimmune disease with medication, treatment, and lifestyle changes.
What is Autoimmune Disease?
An autoimmune disease (AD) is a disease in which the body’s immune system attacks healthy cells. A normal immune system protects the body from infection and disease. With AD, the immune system mistakenly attacks certain cells, such as organs, tissues, and cells, that it was meant to protect. AD is a chronic condition and can be either specific to a single organ (such as Hashimoto’s thyroiditis) or systemic, attacking multiple organs (as is the case with lupus).
According to The Autoimmune Association, there are over 100 autoimmune diseases affecting more than 23.5 million people in the United States. Women develop AD at a rate of 2:1 compared to men, according to a 2014 study.
In this list below, you will find the more common maladies include:
- type 1 diabetes
- rheumatoid arthritis (RA)
- multiple sclerosis (MS)
- lupus (SLE)
- Crohn’s and colitis (IBD)
- Grave’s disease
- Hashimoto’s thyroiditis
- pernicious anemia
- Alopecia areata
Symptoms of Autoimmune Disease
Each autoimmune disease has its own set of symptoms. For example, IBD can cause severe stomach pain and bloating, whereas diabetes can cause extreme thirst. Every patient is unique. However, there are some common symptoms or markers that are shared across conditions and individuals.
Below is a list of the most common autoimmune disease symptoms :
- muscle aches
- joint pain
- swelling and redness
- low-grade fever
- brain fog (trouble concentrating)
- hair loss
- skin rash
- numbness or tingling in hands and/or feet
Autoimmune Disease Tests and Diagnoses
AD can be difficult to diagnose. Symptoms, as those listed above, are often vague and overlap with various illnesses and conditions, making it challenging to properly identify the cause. (A diagnosis can take months, even years, unfortunately.) Your primary care physician may direct you to a specialist, such as a rheumatologist, endocrinologist, dermatologist, or gastroenterologist, for further evaluation.
After reviewing your medical history and conducting a physical exam, a specialist may order blood work to check for inflammation (the hallmark of AD). An ANA (antinuclear antibodies) test is the most common blood test for autoimmune disease. However, other helpful labs include C-reactive protein (CRP), rheumatoid factor (RF), immunoglobulins (IgA), anti-CCP antibodies, enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA), ferritin, complete blood count (CBC), and a basic metabolic panel.
Depending on the lab results, additional blood work, x-rays, ultrasounds, or biopsies may be necessary.
Prognosis: Is Autoimmune Disease Curable?
Unfortunately, AD is not curable. For some, a combination of prescription drugs and lifestyle changes are required to manage their condition; others can manage AD with diet and lifestyle changes alone. When properly managed, a person with AD can thrive, but flare-ups may still occur, even with diligent adherence to your prescribed protocol.
Treatment of Autoimmune Disease
Even though autoimmune disease it not curable, there are a variety of treatments for AD that are suitable for many conditions and individuals. Often times, the most difficult thing to overcome is knowing that autoimmune disease is not curable. Mindset is everything! Medication may be necessary, and in some cases surgery may be needed, but everyone can benefit from lifestyle and dietary changes.
Best Practices to Reduce Flare-ups and Improve Quality of Life
- A nutrient-dense, anti-inflammatory diet rich in antioxidants can help reduce inflammation
- Try the Autoimmune Sisters 21 Day Anti-inflammatory Plan to remove the most inflammatory foods first
- Supplements to address vitamin and mineral deficiencies
- Gentle daily movement to increase circulation and reduce joint pain
- Stress management practices, such as meditation, yoga, and grounding to calm the body and mind
- Non-toxic cookware, cleaners, and personal care products to reduce toxic burden
- Complementary treatments, including infrared sauna, acupuncture, massage, dry brushing, and cognitive behavioral therapy or other therapies to reduce stress, open detox pathways, stimulate the vagus nerve, reduce inflammation, and support mindfulness and healing
Living with an autoimmune disease can be frustrating. Daily activities can be challenging. Educate yourself and listen to your body. Get to know your personal triggers. And build your team! Find caring, empathic, knowledgeable healthcare professionals who will treat your individual symptoms and manifestations, not just your lab numbers. Functional medicine doctors, homeopaths, medical clinicians, health practitioners, nutritionists, therapists, trainers, and/or holistic health coaches in addition to your specialist can make a world of difference. Also, find a community of people, like AutoimmuneSisters.org, for additional support. You are not alone and even though autoimmune disease is not curable, it is livable — and “thriveable”!