What is an autoimmune disease?

If you are struggling with uncharacteristic fatigue, joint pain and digestive problems, you may be starting to look into where these symptoms are coming from.

There's a chance that autoimmune diseases have popped up in your research.

If you want to learn more about what an autoimmune disease is and what the signs and symptoms are, read along as we dive into all things autoimmune diseases.

What is an autoimmune disease?

An autoimmune disease refers to conditions in which your immune system attacks your body by mistake.

Essentially, our immune system is made up of white blood cells, proteins and chemicals which fight infection-causing agents such as bacteria.

When somebody has an autoimmune disease, their immune system has turned on them, attacking their body.

In total, there are currently around 80 different autoimmune diseases.

Depending on the severity of the case and which body systems are affected, these disorders can be mild or debilitating.

While most autoimmune disorders cannot be cured, they can be managed.

Autoimmune diseases affect around 5% of people, making them a prevalent health issue within Australia.

Risk factors

Women are usually more likely to suffer from autoimmune disease, with women having a fourfold increase in the risk of autoimmune disease compared to men. There is also a predisposition to autoimmune disorders that is genetic.

However, this doesn't necessarily mean that the exact same disease will be passed along, but rather a predisposition to an autoimmune disorder.

Environmental factors also play a part in the development of an autoimmune disorder.

What are the different types of autoimmune diseases?

Broadly speaking, autoimmune diseases are split into two groups: organ-specific and non-organ-specific.

As the name indicates, the difference between the two types of autoimmune diseases is whether only one organ is being affected or the body's immune system is attacking multiple organs throughout the body.

Some common examples of autoimmune disease include inflammatory bowel disease, rheumatoid arthritis, systemic lupus erythematosus, Graves disease, type 1 diabetes, multiple sclerosis, vasculitis (inflammation of blood vessels) and Crohn's disease.

What are some of the common symptoms of autoimmune diseases?

While each autoimmune disease has slightly different symptoms, the early symptoms associated with many autoimmune systems are relatively similar.

Some of the early-stage autoimmune disease symptoms include:

  • Unfounded fatigue
  • Sore muscles and joints
  • Swelling
  • Redness and skin rashes
  • Mild fevers
  • Trouble with concentration
  • Numbness in the hands and feet
  • Hair loss

How to get diagnosed?

Unfortunately, autoimmune disorders can be quite difficult to diagnose, causing many people to search for answers for a prolonged time.

You must book a regular appointment with your GP to be diagnosed with an autoimmune condition.

During and following this appointment, it will be likely that you will need to undergo the following:

  • Provide a medical history both of yourself and your family members
  • Have a physical examination conducted
  • Take blood tests, including a blood test that detects autoantibodies
  • A biopsy
  • An x-ray

What are the available treatment options?

While autoimmune disorders cannot be completely cured, most autoimmune diseases can be controlled by either one or a combination of treatments.

Those treatments include:

  • Anti-inflammatory drugs – Anti-inflammatory drugs can be used to reduce the inflammation and pain produced by your autoimmune disorder.
  • Corticosteroids – Also known as steroids, corticosteroids are a drug that helps to reduce inflammation.
  • Pain-killing medication – Regular paracetamol and codeine can be prescribed to aid with pain relief.
  • Immunosuppressant drugs – Immunosuppressant drugs are prescribed to inhibit the activity of the immune system.
  • Physical therapy – For those suffering from an autoimmune disorder that affects mobility, physical therapy is an excellent idea to improve and maintain mobility.
  • Treatments for the deficiency – This might mean injecting a compound that aids with the particular disease, an example being insulin injections for those with diabetes.
  • Surgery – Surgery may be an option for some autoimmune disorders. It's best to consult your GP to discuss if surgery is an option for you.

Are you struggling with your workload working with an autoimmune disease?

Working with an autoimmune disorder can be difficult.

You may experience low energy, a lack of concentration or other symptoms that impact your day-to-day work life.

If this is the case, don't worry, you aren't alone.

You don't have to de-prioritise your health and continue pushing on at a job that isn't suited to certain autoimmune diseases; here at APM, we can help you.

How we can help

Some autoimmune conditions qualify as supported conditions under APM's Disability Employment Services.

While we support a lot of common autoimmune diseases, it's best to double-check we support your illness.

Those with autoimmune diseases who are having difficulty finding a job or returning to work can receive assistance.

With APM, you can apply for Disability Employment Services, a government-funded program that helps people with disabilities find and keep employment.

Participation in the program is free because the Australian Government funds it.

It is possible to find job opportunities, plan your career, and prepare for a job search with the assistance of employment providers such as APM.

No matter if you're considering a career change or need assistance staying in your current position, APM can help.

We provide support to thousands of people so they can succeed at work and achieve their goals.

Call APM on 1800 276 276 to find out if you qualify for Disability Employment Services.