Polyautoimmunity is when a person has more than one autoimmune disease. Sometimes, people can have three or more autoimmune disease—called multiple autoimmune syndrome (MAS). An estimated 25% of people with an autoimmune thyroid disorder like Hashimoto's or Graves' disease also had at least one other autoimmune condition. Indeed, once a person has one autoimmune disorder, their risk for developing another autoimmune condition is much higher.
People with Hashimoto's thyroiditis are at greater risk for also having the following autoimmune conditions:
Autoimmune disorders tend to share similar symptoms, making it hard to identify your condition. For example, most autoimmune diseases manifest as symptoms like unexplained fatigue, weight changes, changes in skin texture or appearance, and muscle and joint pain. Ahead, a look at two prevalent autoimmune conditions—lupus and Hashimoto' s—and how to tell the difference between the two.
Systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) is an autoimmune condition characterized by pain and inflammation that moves throughout the body. Like other autoimmune conditions, your immune system attacks your healthy tissues when you have lupus. Some commonly affected areas include the skin, joints, and internal organs (like your kidneys, muscles, and heart).
People can develop lupus at any point in their life, although some populations are at higher risk, including:
According to the Lupus Foundation of America, nine in ten people with lupus are female. This staggering statistic suggests that estrogen may play a role in the development of this condition. Other causes of lupus include your genetics and environmental triggers, such as UV light, infections, and exposure to agricultural and industrial toxins. Likely, a combination of all these factors causes lupus.
Like many autoimmune conditions, lupus is characterized by:
One of the defining characteristics of lupus is a distinct butterfly-shaped red rash on the cheeks and nose. Mouth sores and chest pain with breathing are also symptoms of lupus.
Hashimoto's thyroiditis is an autoimmune condition where your immune system attacks healthy cells in the thyroid gland. Over time, the thyroid gland becomes chronically inflamed, which leads to a decline in thyroid function.
The thyroid is responsible for producing thyroid hormones that regulate your metabolism, growth, development, and energy storage and utilization. Hashimoto's eventually leads to hypothyroidism, where your thyroid is unable to produce a sufficient amount of thyroid hormone to support its metabolic needs.
People with Hashimoto's can be asymptomatic for many years. However, when chronic inflammation eventually leads to a decline in thyroid hormone production, people develop hypothyroidism.
These symptoms generally suggest a slowing of your metabolism, including:
Because the symptoms are so similar, it can be hard to distinguish between the two conditions unless you have an apparent family history or a characteristic sign like a butterfly rash. People with symptoms of autoimmune diseases, such as unexplained fatigue and joint pain, usually require blood tests to get a clearer picture of what is happening at a cellular level. Your family medical provider may be able to order some of these tests. However, if you do have an autoimmune disease, you will likely need to see a specialist like a rheumatologist or an endocrinologist.
Regrettably, there is no individual diagnostic test that fully identifies lupus. To test for lupus, your doctor will look for obvious inflammation signs, such as swelling, redness, heat, and loss of function. Blood tests can also reveal inflammation inside your body. Your doctor may order the following blood tests:
Your doctor may also order a urinalysis to see if kidney function is compromised. In this test, your doctor is looking for proteins and red blood cells, which should not be present if your kidneys are functioning appropriately.
Testing for Hashimoto's is a little more straightforward, comparatively. While you can experience symptoms all over your body, Hashimoto's primarily attacks the thyroid gland, which means testing thyroid function is an excellent place to start. You'll want to order these tests:
Of course, nothing in this article is a medical diagnosis. Getting a correct diagnosis is crucial for your health and well-being. We recommend that you work with a doctor who takes a whole-body approach to explore your symptoms and identify if the cause is related to autoimmunity. Each condition has a different prognosis and requires unique treatment.
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