While all chronic illnesses are challenging, autoimmune diseases are perhaps some of the most difficult for patients and their families to navigate. Symptoms and their impact can be severe, and the cause is usually unknown. With no known cure, managing symptoms is key. This often requires many lifestyle changes and trial and error treatments. These can cause patients to feel they are on an exhausting and never-ending journey of solving their medical mystery.
So, what exactly is an autoimmune disease?
An autoimmune condition is when, for unknown reasons, the immune system attacks itself instead of protecting the body from bacteria, parasites, viruses and cancer cells. One in fifteen people in the U.S. have an autoimmune disease. While lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis are some of the most common, there are actually more than 100 known autoimmune diseases. These trigger a laundry list of symptoms, from joint and muscle inflammation to digestive tract issues, skin diseases, and nervous system responses like migraines. Autoimmune disorders are serious and can lead to bigger issues, because of their attack on vital organs and tissues.
If you are suffering from a wide array of chronic symptoms, this could be the culprit. It’s important to be proactive about your health. Below are some tips on how to manage your autoimmune symptoms and take control of your health.
Educate and advocate
Education is key when it comes to dealing with any health issues, especially chronic diseases. By learning about your condition and understanding why your body is reacting in certain ways, you can be more conscious of how certain foods, products, medications, and behaviors affect your body.
Knowing the “ins and outs” of your condition is also a valuable tool when advocating for yourself. While it is the hope that doctors have your best interest at heart, at the end of the day, they can only dedicate limited time to each patient and cannot control your actions. You know your body better than anyone else, so it’s important that you take your health seriously, do your research, and be your own advocate. Taking an active role in your treatment is essential. It will also provide a sense of control in this unknown territory, and enable you and your doctor to work together more effectively.
Fuel your body with anti-inflammatory foods
If you suffer from an autoimmune disease, you’ll hear the word inflammation used a lot. Inflammation is your body’s defense mechanism. It’s the reason your ankle swells when you sprain it (this is the good type of inflammation that protects you from a real threat to your body). When individuals are suffering from autoimmune disorders, their bodies have a high level of chronic inflammation. Eating the right foods and eliminating triggers for inflammation are key.
Processed meats, alcohol, excess gluten, excess salt, refined sugars, fried foods are all triggers for inflammation. Plant-based foods, such as fruits and vegetables that are packed with fiber and probiotics, are excellent for reducing inflammation. Similarly, foods rich in antioxidants, an organic sulfur compound called allium, omega-3 fatty oils and other good fats also help reduce inflammation. Looking to eat a more anti-inflammatory diet? Reach for leafy greens, salmon, avocado, nuts, turmeric, olive oil, legumes, fruits and veggies and similarly nutrient dense foods.
The environment around you is so crucial, especially when dealing with autoimmune issues. While the causes of autoimmune diseases are unknown, there are some proven risk factors such as smoking, inhaling pollutants, and exposure to harmful products including harsh, chemical-based cleaning products, sprays and lotions. Read product labels, do your research, and make an effort to rid your home of potential triggers.
Find outlets for stress relief
The power of our mindset is strong. The way that we think also greatly affects our physical wellbeing. Research-based evidence demonstrates that our minds and bodies are connected. For those with a chronic illness, keeping a positive outlook is essential. Stress, anxiety, depression and other mental health challenges can trigger a physical reaction in patients and make it more difficult to manage symptoms. Staying active and moving around is important, since physical activity is a key form of stress relief. Meditation, breathing exercises and doing activities that make you happy are other ways to manage stress and maintain a positive mindset. An emotional support animal (ESA) also could be an excellent stress reliever since they are trained to provide companionship and comfort.
Before getting out of bed in the morning and starting their day, autoimmune patients already face obstacles that many healthy people can’t imagine. Dealing with this burden can feel overwhelming and isolating for patients. Finding a support system with individuals who share similar struggles is critical. Join a support group, follow online autoimmune forums, and surround yourself with family and friends that do help you.
One of the most challenging aspects of treating autoimmune diseases is that medications used to treat them suppress the patient’s immune system to stop the body attacking vital functions. Medications are a key part of getting autoimmune diseases under control and preventing damage to organs and other detrimental health outcomes in the long run. However, they also make it difficult for patients to fight off viruses, infections and other threats to the immune system. Finding the right medication is critical, so pay attention to your symptoms and work with your doctor to find the right solution for you.
Living with an autoimmune disease is challenging, but that does not mean that it has to define you. There are ways autoimmune patients can manage their symptoms and have a life they love. It takes patience and lifestyle adjustments, but it is possible. If you suffer from a chronic illness, Creda Health is here to support and guide you on each step of your journey.