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Early Detection of Autoimmune Disease

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The cartoon showed a doctor in a card shop. “I'd like a sympathy card that also implies he didn't come to me soon enough,” he tells the clerk. I don't remember where or when I saw that cartoon but it made a strong impression on me. The medical profession has preached early detection and treatment for as long as I can remember – but then all too often, they miss the diagnosis when we do go in soon enough.

Autoimmune diseases are some of the most difficult to diagnose. According to author Mary J. Shomon, it takes an average of five years and four doctors to get a correct diagnosis. About half the patients are labeled as chronic complainers before someone takes them seriously. Mary's book, “Living Well with Autoimmune Disease,” includes her own experience with Hashimoto's thyroiditis plus a wealth of information and resources.

Like allergies, autoimmune diseases can range from mild to life-threatening. Some estimates put the prevalence at up to 20 percent of the U. S. population. They strike middle-aged women most often, so the symptoms can easily be blamed on hormone changes or lifestyle stresses from too much work or too little sleep. One hypothesis for why women are more affected than men is that women have a more complicated immune system. During pregnancy, a woman's immune system has to ignore the fetus without shutting down defenses against pathogens. How women's bodies do this and what happens in autoimmunity are still issues for research.

There are 67 conditions listed on the web site of American Autoimmune Diseases Association. The major ones include Grave's disease (hyperthyroidism), Hashimoto's (hypothyroidism), rheumatoid arthritis, vitiligo, diabetes type 1, multiple sclerosis, lupus, Sjogren's syndrome, and scleroderma. Many of the symptoms overlap, and many patients have more than one condition. The illnesses often follow a relapsing and remitting course. I can see why diagnosis is difficult.

Mary Shomon provides a compilation of risk factors and symptoms that point to autoimmune disease. She identified several factors that are common to many conditions:
1. Gluten sensitivity
2. Recent or frequent infections, and low-grade fever

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Thank you for your input!

February 5, 2010 - 8:02am

Hi Linda:
It is so amazing to see accurate info, again! I cant comment enough how accurate your information is here having autoimmune disease myself....and where others on the web seem to fail. The list above on risk factors/symptoms...is correct and those items are poorly remarked on, if at all...on most web pages I have read!! Thank you for the book referral also, as it seems this author knows her autoimmune info. I am a sarcoidosis patient, research x4 months now and what I read from your post...this info is condensed, precise and accurate. Bravo empowHER! Just when I lose faith from other web sources you bring me back to life. Thank you!! Leslie~ Charlotte, NC

February 5, 2010 - 4:30am
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We value and respect our HERWriters' experiences, but everyone is different. Many of our writers are speaking from personal experience, and what's worked for them may not work for you. Their articles are not a substitute for medical advice, although we hope you can gain knowledge from their insight.