Autoimmune disease? 6 tips to master your Autoimmune disease
Some people live with an autoimmune disease for years or even decades before receiving the correct diagnosis. These patients go to as many as 20 different doctors in the healthcare system looking for answers, yet end up frustrated, misdiagnosed, and more confused than ever.
Why? Medicine lacks both an understanding of the issues underlying autoimmunity and how to effectively deal with these conditions even with a diagnosis.
In fact, unless the autoimmune disease has fully progressed to debilitating symptoms, it can be difficult to detect during annual physical exams. Standard blood work and chemical panels come back looking normal, and the patient is often told nothing is wrong with them.
This confuses patients who don’t understand why they’re experiencing pain, brain fog, and other symptoms when they’re told they’re “fine”.
While this is a difficult situation to be in, there are strategies to help you navigate the healthcare system while you search for a correct diagnosis.
The Three Stages of Autoimmunity
Autoimmune diseases can be difficult to detect because they typically progress in stages.
Stage 1 – Silent Immunity Stage. This is the initial stage when the autoimmunity is first developing and the body begins producing antibodies against its own tissue. These antibodies might appear on blood work, but the patient experiences no symptoms.
Stage 2 – Autoimmune Reactivity Stage. The patient begins to notice symptoms as their immune system becomes more aggressive with the autoimmune attacks. The symptoms they experience depend on which tissue the autoimmune disease is targeting. However, the patient still hasn’t progressed to full disease and experiences no clinically noticeable loss of tissue.
Stage 3 – Autoimmune Disease Stage. The disease has fully progressed and there is clear destruction of tissues, deformity, and change in effective functioning of bodily systems.
Barriers to an Autoimmune Diagnosis
Many people between stages two and three do not yet have major tissue destruction. Therefore, when they walk into the healthcare system looking for answers, doctors dismiss them as “fine” and tell them everything is normal – but it’s not.
Research shows they have predictive antibodies. Once positive antibodies show up in a patient’s blood work, it’s just a matter of time until the autoimmune disease comes out without preventive strategies.
So why aren’t doctors looking for them?
Well, it’s not intentional — it’s the result of a faulty system. Tests to detect antibodies can cost hundreds of dollars, and insurance companies often won’t cover them unless the patient displays obvious signs of a full-blown autoimmune disease.
The other problem is the medical community’s limited knowledge of autoimmune conditions. Medical education provides minimal learning about these diseases, so practitioners might not understand the different stages or that a patient can be stuck in stage two for a decade or more.
Even after diagnosis, most doctors are not aware of evidence-based strategies for managing these conditions to slow progression of the disease or drive it into remission.