How to identify, treat, and stay fit with an autoimmune disorder.
The United States is currently experiencing an autoimmune disease epidemic.
With over 60 million affected Americans today, the statistics show autoimmunity has increased threefold over the last half-century.
It’s ranked the third leading chronic illness in the US, behind heart disease and cancer, accounting for over $100 billion (with a b) in annual healthcare costs.
Autoimmune diseases aren’t a specific, labeled group of conditions that are easy to identify. More than 80 different autoimmune disorders exist. Their symptoms often overlap, making them hard to even diagnose.
Today, we’re taking a deep dive into what they are, how we can better our condition, and how we can make working out a beneficial and healthy part of our lifestyle, even with an autoimmune disease.
What Are Autoimmune Diseases?
First of all, no matter what type of autoimmune disease you have, they all start in one place – your immune system.
Your body’s immune system is a complex network of cells and organs which protect your body against foreign substances, bacteria, cancer cells, transplant tissue, and so on.
The primary purpose here is to keep your body healthy and to keep these foreign invaders out.
To do that, your immune system produces antibodies which, when released, attack these invaders until they’re good and gone.
An autoimmune disease is when that same immune system begins producing antibodies that attack your body’s own tissue, instead of fighting infections.
This often happens in response to certain triggers, which is why treatment for autoimmune diseases focuses on reducing the activity of your immune system.
As I said above, there are more than 80 types of autoimmune diseases, and a lot of them have really similar symptoms.
This makes diagnosing them a long, frustrating, and stressful process, both for you, and your doctor.
Blood tests that search out autoantibodies in your body can help doctors diagnose these conditions with precision.
Often, the first symptoms are things such as fatigue, fevers, muscle aches, and inflammation which causes redness in specific body areas, heat, pain, and swelling.
These diseases often get worse in their so-called flare-up period, and in certain periods, the symptoms may get better or even disappear. That period is called a remission.
Of course, treatment depends on the type of disease you have, but in most cases, the primary goal is to help your body reduce inflammation.
Your doctor might even prescribe corticosteroids or other drugs that reduce your immune system’s response!
Here are some of the more common autoimmune diseases, and what they entail:
- Type 1 diabetes – destroying cells in your pancreas
- Rheumatoid arthritis – joint inflammation (and the surrounding tissue)
- Celiac sprue disease – a gluten reaction that causes damage to the lining of the small intestine
- Scleroderma – a connective tissue disease that causes changes in muscles, blood vessels, organs, and the skin
- Systemic lupus erythematosus – affects skin, kidneys, brain, and other organs
- Psoriasis – a condition that causes redness, irritation, and flaky, silver-white patches on the skin
- Vitiligo – white patches on the skin caused by loss of pigment
- Inflammatory bowel diseases – a group of inflammatory conditions of the colon and small intestine
- Addison’s disease – insufficient adrenal hormone
- Graves’ disease – overactive thyroid gland
If you suffer from any of these conditions, chances are you already know about it.
But for those in the early stages of development, it’s essential for you to know the symptoms that come along with autoimmune diseases, so you can start treating them immediately and make small changes to your daily and fitness routine that will help you ease your condition.
Symptoms and Treatments
When it comes to the early symptoms of autoimmune diseases, a lot of them are very similar, and they include:
- Muscle pains
- Trouble concentrating
- Numbness in the hands and feet
- Hair loss
- Swelling, redness, and skin irritations
Individual diseases can also have their own unique symptoms. For example, type 1 diabetes causes extreme thirst, weight loss, and fatigue. Inflammatory bowel syndrome causes bloating and nasty belly aches.
And with autoimmune diseases like rheumatoid arthritis or psoriasis, the flare-up and remission periods in which the symptoms come and go are clear to identify.
So, when should you see a doctor?
Aside from your usual check-ups with your health provider, recognizing any of these symptoms that occur on a regular (or on-and-off) basis is a good reason to get yourself tested.
Different specialists treat different types of autoimmune diseases, but all of them should be able to identify your symptoms and point you in the right direction.
- Endocrinologists treat conditions of the glands like Graves’ and Addison’s disease.
- Rheumatologists treat diseases like rheumatoid arthritis, Sjögren’s syndrome, and any joint-related issues.
- Gastroenterologists treat diseases such as celiac, Crohn’s disease, and problems with the GI tract.
- Dermatologists can help you treat any skin condition (like psoriasis) related to autoimmune issues.
Treatments can’t cure autoimmune diseases, but bringing down inflammation and controlling your immune system’s response to your triggers is vital for your quality of life and well-being.
Of course, every condition will have different complications when it comes to changes in your lifestyle.
One thing we know for sure – fitness and working out are both crucial for the people who want to live and overall healthy lifestyle.
So now, let’s look at how we can help our bodies and use fitness as a powerful tool to help us stay fit despite our condition.
Using Fitness to Improve Lifestyle and Better our Condition
It’s a fact – 2 in 3 adults in America are considered overweight or obese. This pandemic results in a lot of health issues for the general population – such as autoimmune diseases, endocrine dysfunction, diabetes, cancer, stroke, dyspnea, disabilities, and the list goes on.
For the people who suffer from an autoimmune disease or any other chronic pain issue for that matter, exercise can be both a blessing and a curse.
We all know moving is essential to our well-being, but too much of it can cause a reaction in your body that will create a flare-up in your condition, and put you in harm’s way.
What people don’t tell you is that exercise WILL help you manage your symptoms and flare-ups.
Your body was designed to exercise! It can withstand heavy loads, aerobic work, and endurance training, and this results in incredibly beneficial physiological adaptations that increase your body’s efficiency on so many levels.
Autoimmune diseases and chronic pain conditions feed off of inflammation, and if you’re working out right, and eating right, this lifestyle will help you reduce the inflammation (and the pain it causes) in your body.
On top of all that, the right workout routine will essentially “teach” your body to adapt to a particular pain response, which can help you get through the sometimes painful daily activities. Your body needs to leave its comfort zone, and learn that being uncomfortable in an otherwise safe environment will teach you how to handle your symptoms appropriately.
In my practice as a coach, I’ve seen people transform regardless of their condition using the right method I’m about to share with you right now.
If you are diagnosed with an autoimmune disease, your workout should primarily focus on adapting your body and building a base of strength and flexibility.
A number of medical studies have found that exercising in that manner has positive effects on reducing the symptoms of such disorders, including the chronic pain and fatigue that they sometimes come with.
Both short-term and long-term exercise programs have shown remarkable results.
On the other side of the coin, research has also shown that physical and psychological stress can aggravate your symptoms. Exercise often increases cortisol levels, which causes stress to the body.
So, there’s only one challenge in front of us – finding a workout program that creases enough work to get you fit and healthy, without overworking your body and risking a flare-up.
As you can see, both the benefits and the potential risks of exercising are not to be ignored.
You have to find a way to balance both of them if you want to live a healthier lifestyle, look better, and go about your life worry-free.
I can say that symptoms of autoimmune disorders are NOT to be ignored, and they sometimes come and go over time.
In my practice, I’ve found that two schools of thought exist among people with such disorders.
For those who can (but don’t do it) exercise is viewed as a dull, tedious, pointless waste of time.
But for those that do take the time, exercise is therapy. For them, it’s a required part of their day, helping them develop emotional and physical strength, and helping them manage their symptoms, inflammation, and stress, so they can be insured they live a life of optimal health.
I hope this blog post was educational and gave you some perspective on the benefits of working out with such a disorder.
I want you to know I’m always looking for ways to help, and if you need an expert you can trust on this matter, feel free to book your free consultation call.