When you're coming down with the cold or flu, you're greeted with symptoms that are almost immediately recognisable. Runny nose, raspy voice, blocked up sinuses — all the good stuff. But there are some conditions that can be a little harder to pinpoint, as the symptoms are common in other illnesses too. Autoimmune diseases are some of those conditions. I spoke to immunologist Dr Jenna Macciochi to find out what symptoms could be a sign of an autoimmune disorder.
According to Macciochi, autoimmune diseases (or autoimmunity) are conditions where your immune system attacks healthy cells in your body by mistake. "Immune cells (our white blood cells) carry out inflammatory tasks to try and remove something in our body that they have mistakenly identified as dangerous," she explains. The American Autoimmune Related Diseases Association states there are more than 100 conditions that can be identified as autoimmune disorders and while they can range from being systematic to organ specific, "they all result from a deregulation of our immune system but they may have different environmental triggers and genetic associations," Dr Macciochi says.
Many of these conditions share similar symptoms and can often overlap with one another. Dr Macchiochi tells me, "The early symptoms of many autoimmune diseases are very similar, but can also be confused with many other conditions. These can include fatigue, achy muscles, swelling and redness, low-grade fever, trouble concentrating, numbness and tingling in the hands and feet, hair loss, and skin rashes."
These symptoms do not necessarily point towards an autoimmune disorder, but if you experience one or more of them Dr Macciochi advises that they are "definitely worth getting checked out," and especially if they continue to persist over a period of time.
Due to the broad scope of autoimmune disorders and their tendency to overlap with one another, they are often difficult to diagnose. As Dr Macciochi says, "most autoimmune diseases do not have a simple test that will help with diagnosis." She adds: "Symptoms often develop slowly and subtly [and] they are also often vague and diffuse."
It's also just a case of making sure that you are in tune with your body and are able to identify when something isn't right. After all, when it comes to knowing what your body feels like, you're the number one expert.