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Autoimmune Diseases Are Very Common, But Challenging to Diagnose

Autoimmune Diseases Are Very Common, But Challenging to Diagnose

Persistence in Getting a Proper Diagnosis Through Evaluation and Laboratory Testing Can Lead to Better Patient Outcomes

Did you know that 1 in 10 Americans is living with an autoimmune disease? What is even more surprising is that they may not even know it. You may be familiar with rheumatoid arthritis, Crohn’s disease or lupus, but there are more than 80 autoimmune diseases. (Post continues below video.)

What is Autoimmunity?

Autoimmunity is the process whereby the immune system mistakenly identifies the body’s own proteins as foreign invaders and begins producing antibodies that attack healthy cells and tissues, causing a variety of diseases. Autoimmune diseases can affect almost any part of the body including the joints, nervous system, muscles, thyroid, heart, liver, kidneys, bowel, and skin. Autoimmune diseases include rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, polymyositis, Sjögren’s syndrome, multiple sclerosis, systemic sclerosis, myasthenia gravis, Graves’ disease, vasculitis, type 1 diabetes and celiac.For people living with autoimmune diseases, getting a proper diagnosis can be a very difficult challenge. In fact, because early autoimmune disease symptoms mimic other conditions, patients may often see four different doctors over a four-year period before a diagnosis is made. According to the American Autoimmune Related Disease Association (AARDA) the majority of those eventually diagnosed with serious autoimmune diseases had significant problems in getting an accurate diagnosis. Many were incorrectly diagnosed with a variety of conditions that have no specific blood test to confirm the diagnosis. Many were told that their symptoms were “in their heads,” or that they were under too much stress. They also found that almost half of these patients were labeled as chronic complainers or were told that they were overly concerned with their health in the earliest stages of their illnesses.Getting a Proper DiagnosisIt is true that some autoimmune diseases have no diagnostic tests, but many do. That’s why quality and precision testing are such indispensable management tools. And why Quest Diagnostics offers a comprehensive test menu for autoimmune diseases through every stage of care: screening, diagnosis, monitoring and prognosis.If you think you, or someone you care about may have an autoimmune disease there are several tips that can lead to a proper diagnosis and care:
  1. Know your family history. Understand your family’s health history and expand your knowledge from your immediate family to aunts, uncles, cousins and grandparents. Many autoimmune diseases have a genetic component. Knowing your family history, can give your doctor clues about your health condition.
  2. Keep a symptom list. It’s important to make a list of every major symptom you’ve experienced so that you can present it clearly to your doctor.
  3. Set yourself up with an appropriate medical team. This includes seeking referrals for physicians who understand autoimmune diseases and knowing which laboratories and hospitals they work with.
  4. Obtain a thorough clinical examination and get a second, third and fourth opinion if necessary.
  5. Partner with your physician to manage your disease. This includes proper treatment and ongoing monitoring.
If you think you or someone you love has an autoimmune disease it is important to follow the tips above. Listen to your body. Be persistent to ensure your voice is heard, so you can get the proper diagnosis, treatment and care you need.