Are You Suffering from Autoimmune Disease?: A Symptom Checklist

Red and orange salsa, with a green sprig of cilantro and metal serving tongs resting on top. Title image for the article: Are you suffering from Autoimmune Disease?: A Symptom Checklist

Wondering if your painful symptoms are from an autoimmune disease, and in need of a symptom checklist to help you figure it out? 

While there are many types of autoimmune diseases, the most common ones have some similar symptoms. In addition, your past medical history, your family’s medical history, and specific medical testing can also be key in determining if what ails you is autoimmune or not. 

If you’re living with unexplained symptoms, chronic pain, constant fatigue, or other unpleasant realities, you may be wondering if you are suffering from an autoimmune disease. 

Use the symptom checklist to help you determine if what you’re dealing with might be an autoimmune disease, then read more about each checklist item below.

Autoimmune Disease Symptom Checklist:

  1. Do you have family members with an autoimmune disease?
    • Yes or No
  2. Do you suffer from joint pain or swelling?
    • Yes or No
  3. Do you feel constantly/excessively fatigued, weak, or achy?
    • Yes or No
  4. Do you have skin issues, like skin rashes?
    • Yes or No
  5. Have you already been diagnosed with another autoimmune disease?
    • Yes or No
  6.  Are you experiencing hair loss?
    • Yes or No
  7. Did you test positive for ANA in recent blood work?
    • Yes or No
  8. Do you have a persistent low-grade fever?
    • Yes or No
  9. Do you get numbness/tingling in your hand, feet, or other extremities?
    • Yes or No
  10. Do you have any food sensitivities, or do you suspect you may have a food sensitivity?
    • Yes or No

Did you check two or more of the above boxes?
If so, read on for more info.

Autoimmune Disease Symptom Checklist: Explained

Symptom Checklist Item #1:
Do you have family members with an autoimmune disease?

Autoimmune diseases are strongly linked to genetics1. So, if you have a family member who has an autoimmune disease, then there is an increased risk that you may have one as well. If possible, ask your family (especially your elders) about health problems they know about in the family.

The most common autoimmune diseases are:

  • Thyroid disease
  • Skin diseases
  • Joint disease
  • Intestinal disease
    • Such as: inflammatory bowel disease, Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, celiac disease
  • Gland disease, like diseases of the pancreas, adrenal glands, salivary glands, and tear ducts
    • Such as: type 1 diabetes, Sjögren’s syndrome, Addison’s disease
  • Nerve disease
    • Such as: multiple sclerosis, Myasthenia gravis
  • Autoimmune vasculitis
  • Pernicious anemia2

Your family may not know these diseases by name, but often know about the symptoms. You may have to do some guesswork and investigating.

Symptom Checklist Item #2:
Do you suffer from joint pain or swelling?

Joint pain or swelling are common painful symptoms among autoimmune sufferers. Psoriatic arthritis and rheumatoid arthritis are primarily characterized by joint issues. However, joint issues can be one of many symptoms in other autoimmune diseases, like Hashimoto’s and lupus.

That said, there are several potential reasons for joint pain or swelling. Joint issues alone is not enough to determine that an autoimmune disease is present.

Symptom Checklist Item #3:
Do you feel constantly/excessively fatigued, weak, or achy?

Fatigue, weakness, and aching are also common symptoms for autoimmune sufferers2. Since the immune system is overactive, this can make you feel exhausted, weak, or achy. These symptoms can come and go, or they can be persistent.

Again, there can be several reasons for these symptoms. Fatigue, weakness, or aches with no other symptoms may not be from autoimmune disease.

Symptom Checklist Item #4:
Do you have skin issues, like skin rashes?

Several common autoimmune diseases come with skin issues. This includes diseases like psoriasis, eczema, and lupus. If you are suffering from skin rashes, it’s possible that an autoimmune disease is the cause. 

Symptom Checklist Item #5:
Have you already been diagnosed with another autoimmune disease?

People with one autoimmune disease are at higher risk for developing a second one3. It’s worth thinking back on your medical history to see if you have a prior autoimmune diagnosis, such as childhood eczema. The most common autoimmune diseases are list above.

Below are more diseases that are autoimmune, but it is not common knowledge that they are autoimmune:

Symptom Checklist Item #6:
Are you experiencing hair loss?

Some autoimmune disorders are associated with hair loss. Examples include psoriasis, Hashimoto’s, alopecia, lupus, inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), Crohn’s disease, and ulcerative colitis.

The main symptom of alopecia is hair loss, since your immune system attacks your hair follicles. In psoriasis, hair loss can be due to psoriasis on the scalp. Abnormal thyroid function disturbs the hair regrowth cycle causing hair loss in Hashimoto’s4. Intestinal diseases like IBD, Crohn’s, and ulcerative colitis can make it difficult to absorb nutrients, resulting in nutritional deficiencies that can cause hair loss5.

Symptom Checklist Item #7:
Did you test positive for ANA in recent blood work?

ANA stands for antinuclear antibodies, and when it’s detected, it may mean that you are producing antibodies that are attacking your own body6. These are called autoantibodies. This is at the heart of all autoimmune diseases: the body attacking itself.

Testing for ANA can be useful in helping determine if your symptoms are autoimmune or not.

However, a positive ANA test does not always indicate an autoimmune disease. Sometimes, people with cancer or taking certain medications will test positive on an ANA test. Some people with no health conditions test positive on ANA tests7.

Symptom Checklist Item #8:
Do you have a persistent low-grade fever?

A low-grade fever that lingers may be a sign that you are suffering from an autoimmune disease. A fever can indicate that inflammation or an infection are present. In lupus, a low grade fever may signal oncoming illness or the beginning of a flare-up.

If you experience a fever lasting a few days or fevers that come and go over the course of a few days, you should take your temperature twice daily and keep a record. Certain trends may alert your doctor to specific processes occurring in your body8.

Symptom Checklist Item #9:
Do you get numbness/tingling in your hands, feet, or other extremities?

Numbness or tingling may be a sign of Raynaud’s syndrome, which might indicate an underlying autoimmune disorder.

The symptoms of Raynaud’s syndrome happen when there is a short-term interruption of blood flow to the extremities. In cold weather or during stressful events, you may feel numb, tingling, or cold in your fingers, toes, ears, or tip of your nose. Your skin may also change color during a flare-up.

Raynaud’s is commonly seen in people with autoimmune disease. 

Symptom Checklist Item #10:
Do you have any food sensitivities, or do you suspect you may have a food sensitivity?

It is very common for those suffering from autoimmune disease to have food sensitivities,9 often newly formed. This is because about 70% of the immune system lies in the digestive tract, so gut health is directly tied to immune system health. 

Common food sensitivities include wheat/gluten, dairy, and/or nightshade vegetables. 

It is best to work with a dietitian-nutritionist to help you identify your food sensitivities, learn how to avoid these trigger foods, and to improve your digestive health so that new sensitivities do not arise. 

Hands holding green beans that are both green and purple in color. Part of the article Are you suffering from Autoimmune Disease?: A Symptom Checklist

Do you check 2+ boxes on the checklist?

If you check two or more boxes on the autoimmune symptom checklist, the first step is to make an appointment with your doctor and request further testing. Next, you may need to make additional appointments with specialists to determine your diagnosis. 

Then, if an autoimmune disease is identified, then your next best course of action is to begin working on gut health. About 70% of your immune system lies in your intestinal tract, so poor gut health is almost always a factor in autoimmune disease.

What to do after getting diagnosed with an autoimmune disease?

After getting diagnosed, your doctor will likely recommend certain prescription medications. While these medications can help in the short run, often they stop working over time or have negative side effects.

Therefore, to achieve lasting relief, it’s essential to work on improving your gut health, which will improve your immune system health too. In your intestines, issues that can exacerbate autoimmune disease include:

  • Poor digestion
  • Overgrown bad microbes, or problems with your microbiome
  • Under-grown good microbes, another microbiome problem
  • Toxins produced in the gut
  • The inability to remove toxins through the intestinal tract
  • and more

Finally figured you have an autoimmune disease and need help healing your gut? 

Book an autoimmune nutrition appointment today!

A plate of brightly colored foods. Strawberries, blueberries, a salad, scallops, broccoli, and carrots. Part of the article Are you suffering from Autoimmune Disease?: A Symptom Checklist

Citations:

  1. Ceccarelli, Fulvia et al. “Genetic Factors of Autoimmune Diseases 2017.” Journal of immunology research vol. 2017 (2017): 2789242. doi:10.1155/2017/2789242
  2.  https://www.healthline.com/health/autoimmune-disorders#common-autoimmune-diseases
  3. Cojocaru, M et al. “Multiple autoimmune syndrome.” Maedica vol. 5,2 (2010): 132-4.
  4. https://www.webmd.com/connect-to-care/hair-loss/hashimotos-thyroiditis-and-hair-loss
  5. Shah, Rajesh et al. “Frequency and associated factors of hair loss among patients with inflammatory bowel disease.” World journal of gastroenterology vol. 21,1 (2015): 229-32. doi:10.3748/wjg.v21.i1.229
  6. https://medlineplus.gov/lab-tests/ana-antinuclear-antibody-test/
  7. https://www.webmd.com/a-to-z-guides/what-is-an-antinuclear-antibody-test
  8. https://www.hopkinslupus.org/lupus-info/lupus-signs-symptoms-comorbidities/
  9. Coucke, Francis. “Food intolerance in patients with manifest autoimmunity. Observational study.” Autoimmunity reviews vol. 17,11 (2018): 1078-1080. doi:10.1016/j.autrev.2018.05.011
     

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