Signs and Symptoms of Lesser-known Autoimmune Diseases
The immune system prevents diseases and infections by fighting off germs that enter the body. In some people, however, the immune system attacks healthy cells, tissues, and organs by perceiving them as a threat. This condition is known as an autoimmune disease. Experts have recognized over 80 types of autoimmune diseases that can affect any part of the human body. Generally, autoimmune diseases are incurable, with symptoms showing up in flares and requiring lifelong management.
Recognizing some lesser-known autoimmune diseases
To begin treatment for an autoimmune disease, it is important to get the right diagnosis. Knowing the common and lesser-known symptoms of some autoimmune diseases can help in the process.
Hemolytic anemia is an autoimmune blood condition where the body’s red blood cells are destroyed faster than they can be replaced. It may be inherited from one’s parents or acquired due to an infection, tumor, cancer, or other autoimmune disorders. Symptoms of hemolytic anemia include loss of appetite, irritability, headaches, lack of color in the skin, jaundice, dark-colored urine, fever, weakness, dizziness, confusion, fatigue, enlarged spleen and liver, tachycardia, and heart murmur. Other symptoms may also include brittle nails, pica syndrome, sore or inflamed tongue, mouth ulcers, abnormal menstrual bleeding, loss of sexual desire, and numbness in the hands and feet.
Psoriasis is a skin disease that causes patches of itchy, inflamed skin. Although it is not a serious or life-altering condition, it can be uncomfortable to live with. Common symptoms of psoriasis include scaly skin, itching, pain, and thick inflamed patches of skin, usually around the head, elbows, and knees. Other lesser-known signs and symptoms also include bright red patches (inverse psoriasis) in areas where the skin rubs together, dandruff-like flakes, nail pitting, or other deformities and discoloration on the nail bed, inflamed joints, deep blisters on the hands and feet, peeling rashes, or even pus-filled blisters.
Scleroderma (or systemic sclerosis) is a group of rare diseases that leads to the tightening of the skin. Since it resembles many other diseases, it can often be difficult to diagnose. Symptoms of scleroderma include hard, thickening, or tight skin, hair loss, reduced sweating, dry and itchy skin, changes in skin color, stiff joints, muscle shortening, weakness, loss of tissue beneath the skin abnormal bone growth, calcium deposits beneath the skin, visible blood vessels, and extreme sensitivity to cold and stress. When scleroderma affects other parts of the body, symptoms may also include problems swallowing, heartburn, diarrhea, constipation, high blood pressure, abnormal heartbeat, shortness of breath, and a lack of sex drive.
Celiac disease is caused due to an autoimmune response to gluten, a common protein found in grains like wheat and barley. For a person with Celiac disease, eating gluten may cause bloating, chronic diarrhea, constipation, gas, lactose intolerance, nausea, vomiting, and abdominal pain. It can also affect other parts of the body, causing dermatitis herpetiformis, fatigue, joint pain, mental health problems such as anxiety and depression, balance problems, seizures, peripheral neuropathy, reproductive problems such as infertility or miscarriages, canker sores, and dry mouth. Among children, the symptoms of Celiac disease may also include damage to the permanent teeth’s enamel, delayed puberty, unexplained mood changes, and slowed growth.
Type-1 diabetes or juvenile diabetes is a chronic condition where the pancreas makes little or no insulin, causing an imbalance in the regulation of sugar in the body. Without insulin, one’s blood sugars constantly remain high and can cause symptoms such as thirst, a frequent urge to urinate, hunger, fatigue, slow wound healing, dry or itchy skin, numbness or tingling in the feet, blurry vision, and confusion. Some lesser-known symptoms of type-1 diabetes also include frequent urinary tract infections, skin discoloration, irritability, sudden weight loss, diabetic ketoacidosis (fruity breath), dry mouth, and nausea.
Inflammatory bowel disease
Inflammatory bowel syndrome (IBD) is a term used to describe two different kinds of conditions – ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease. They typically cause chronic inflammation in the digestive tract and are accompanied by symptoms like diarrhea, rectal bleeding, abdominal pain, and fatigue. Lesser-known signs and symptoms of IBD include uveitis (inflammation in the middle layer of the eye wall), episcleritis (pain, redness, and inflammation in the eyes), erythema nodosum (skin inflammation on the legs and arms), ulcers on the legs, slowed growth rate in children, anemia, sores in the mouth, ulcers in the esophagus, and fistulas or abscesses around the anus or rectum.
Multiple sclerosis is a serious condition that affects the central nervous system. It occurs when the immune system attacks the myelin sheath that covers nerve fibers and results in the impairment of communication between the brain and the rest of the body. Symptoms of multiple sclerosis include numbness or weakness in one or more limbs, tingling, lack of coordination, inability to walk, partial or complete loss of vision, prolonged double vision, blurry vision, vertigo, fatigue, slurred speech, cognitive problems, and mental disturbances. Some lesser-known signs of multiple sclerosis include speech problems, such as slurring or loss of volume, loss of taste, trouble swallowing, tremors, seizures, breathing problems, and hearing loss.
Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is a chronic inflammatory disorder. It occurs when the immune system begins to attack the body’s tissues and can lead to bone erosion and deformities. Signs and symptoms of RA include tender, warm, swollen joints, joint stiffness, fatigue, fever, and loss of appetite. Lesser-known symptoms also include hearing problems, skin rashes, hives, bruising, breathing problems such as snoring, coughing, or sleep apnea, numbness or tingling in the limbs (peripheral neuropathy), gum disease, eye irritation, disturbed sleep, mental health issues such as depression or anxiety, nausea, bloating, and digestion problems.
Living with an autoimmune condition can be challenging, especially since information about them is not widespread. Knowing the symptoms can help one receive the right diagnosis and learn how to manage the condition effectively to improve their quality of life.