Systemic Lupus Erythematosus (LUPUS)
Thirteen years ago Vanessa was diagnosed with Systemic Lupus Erythematosus (SLE) or Lupus for short. Her problems began long before her diagnosis after the birth of her first child, Ashley, when she was just 18 years old. Lupus is defined as a chronic, inflammatory autoimmune disease. It frequently affects the skin, joints, kidneys, but, like autoimmune diseases do, it affects multiple organs. Symptoms vary from person to person, and may come and go. Since autoimmune diseases are either a hyper-firing Th1 or Th2 response, it is when that system is most active that the person experiences the most symptoms. This is why patient's symptoms seem to wax and wane. The condition may affect one organ or body system at first and then progress to involve others. Almost all people with SLE have joint pain, arthritis and chronic fatigue. The joint pain is usually in the fluid filled joints like the fingers, knees, and hips. These joints have joint capsules which are sacs made up of essential fatty acids, prone to accept antigens and therefore common attacks of the immune response.
Vanessa's youth was troubled; both her father and mother were alcoholics and Vanessa ran away from home at age 16. She bounced in and out of relationships, got pregnant at age 17 and was unwelcome in an attempt to return home. She had her baby while living at a shelter. Her increased stress, use of experimental drugs, emotional depression and the accompanying fluctuations that pregnancy brings the Th1/Th2 immune response may all have been contributors to the autoimmune 'switch' being turned on. Her symptoms have gradually gotten worse over time and even though God intervened in Vanessa's life when she got saved at a youth rally when Ashley was just 5 months old and she now is happily married, the disease has progressed.
Once an autoimmune disease has turned on, there is no turning it off. Traditional medicine had given Vanessa little hope and just prescriptions to fill. She tried multiple medications with some relief but different side effects. It wasn't until she found care with a functional medicine doctor who understood the autoimmune process that she began to take the upper hand against her disease. "It was the first time I ever understood what Lupus was," she commented, "I thought I was just doomed with a genetic disease that I'd have to live with the rest of my life. The last 3 months since starting care has been remarkable. I feel like I have a new life."
Vanessa's story is commonplace. Autoimmune patients feel helpless and hopeless; they have basically been given a death sentence by modern medicine with no alternative but symptom suppressant drugs. There is hope, and if you just keep digging and asking better and more pointed questions, you can find the answers; but you just might have to ask different people.
Although there are numerous different named autoimmune diseases, each with its own unique symptoms depending on the tissues being attacked, autoimmune diseases do share some common characteristics. The following core characteristics are experienced by the majority of sufferers of autoimmune disease symptoms:
Extreme Fatigue - Or, the kind of fatigue that is not alleviated by rest. This is experienced almost universally by autoimmune disease sufferers.
Muscle and Joint Pain - Whether it is general pain, burning, aching and soreness in the muscles or joint pain or aches, this symptom can also be found in almost every autoimmune disease.
Muscle Weakness - Feeling weak, particularly in the muscles, and loss of hand or arm or leg /thigh strength is a common symptom.
Swollen Glands - These can be all over the body, but especially in the throat area, under the arms, and at the top of the legs in the groin area.
Inflammation - Inflammation is a part of every autoimmune disorder. The warning sign of pain, especially when chronic, is a sign that something needs immediate attention.
Susceptibility to Infections - Frequent colds, bladder infections, ear infections, sore throat, sinus problems and yeast infections are common, with a slower recovery time, for people with autoimmune diseases.
Sleep Disturbances - Difficulty falling asleep and/or frequent waking is experienced by almost everyone with an autoimmune disorder.
Weight Loss or Gain - Changes in weight, typically in the 10 to 15 pound range, is often a sign of numerous autoimmune diseases.
Low Blood Sugar - Dysglycemia is also a sign of adrenal fatigue, common in many autoimmune disorders.
Blood Pressure Changes - Most autoimmune people have low blood pressure, though some have high blood pressure. Some experience feelings or dizziness or vertigo, fainting, palpitations and fluctuations in heart rate.
Candida Yeast Infections - Virtually all autoimmune diseases have gastrointestinal issues in common. Candida infestations, chronic parasitic infections, and H. Pylori infections may manifest as digestive disturbances, sinus infections, vaginal yeast infections or thrush.
Allergies - Many people with autoimmune disorders have numerous extreme food, chemical and environmental allergies and sensitivities.
Digestive Problems - Abdominal pain, bloating, tenderness, heartburn, cramps, constipation, diarrhea and excessive gas (looks like you're three months pregnant) reflect a condition known as "leaky gut syndrome", common with many autoimmune diseases.
Anxiety and Depression - Mood and emotional changes, panic attacks and excessive irritability are common symptoms in most autoimmune conditions.
Memory Problems - Often known as "brain fog", is a common autoimmune disease symptom that appears in most conditions.
Thyroid Problems - Many people have hypothyroidism, though some are hyperthyroid. Often this does not show up on a typical thyroid test and may manifest as low body temperature, a decreased metabolic rate, headache, chronic fatigue, cold hands and feet, inability to lose weight and excessive hair loss. There is a much longer list than this that a thyroid patient may exhibit.
Re-Current Headaches - Can manifest as migraines or severe headaches in some people.
Low Grade Fevers - This is very common, with some people experiencing this every day.
Pre-menstrual Syndrome - Autoimmune disease symptoms often increase around the menstrual cycle. Extreme bloating, painful cramps, heavy bleeding and irregular cycle are common.
Re-Current Miscarriage - This is a very common symptom in many autoimmune diseases.
Perimenopausal Symptoms - Hot flashes, sweating and fatigue are common with women going through their change of life but this is not normal.
As you can see, this is NOT an extensive list of autoimmune disease symptoms and it may be hard to believe that these symptoms are in any way connected. You are probably not experiencing all of these symptoms (at least we hope not), but if you are experiencing many of them, you're not alone.
We believe that more and more people are realizing that there is a connection between their various symptoms and illnesses, and this is the theory that is followed by most health specialists studying autoimmune disorders. Unfortunately, many medical professionals still treat the body like it is a conglomeration of separate symptoms, which is not working out too well for many autoimmune disease patients. We are not saying this to criticize the medical community; we are simply stating a fact. We strongly believe that the symptoms of any autoimmune disease affect the whole body, and consequently the body needs to be treated as a whole.
My opinion is that all chronic health patients should be tested for autoimmune disease. If the testing reveals such an attack, the battle is to figure out a way to dampen their immune activity. That is why it's necessary to do all the testing and select the most sensitive tests. "My doctor already tested me for gluten and he said it's not positive" "But I had a H. pylori test already" The blood test for gluten and H pylori are highly unreliable and reveal a lot of false negatives. The most accuate way of testing is a stool and gene profile for gluten and the Urea Breathe Test for H. Pylori. New, more sensitive testing is being developed all the time. As a functional medicine doctor I spend the time it takes to keep up on current trends. Immune panels need to be run with their Th1/Th2 cytokine breakdowns, anemias, a CMP, a complete CBC with 1, 25 Vitamin D and 25 Vitamin D testing, Homocystene levels, Inflamatory markers, B-12 and a lipid panel to name a few, and thats just from the blood, in addition to Saliva and Gut permability testing I Always keep on digging and search for every possible antigen - there is often more than one!