Autoimmune Diseases

What is an Autoimmune Disease?

An autoimmune disease is a condition in which your immune system targets healthy cells in your own body and causes damage to them. Some common body organs and types of tissues affected are the thyroid gland, adrenal glands, pancreas, joints, muscles, blood vessels, and skin. Effects can be localized or spread throughout the body.

Symptoms of Autoimmune Diseases

The symptoms of autoimmune diseases depend on the tissues or organs the immune system attacks. Each autoimmune disease has its own specific set of symptoms. However, there are some symptoms that are common to many of these conditions. If you have an autoimmune disease, you may start out with these general symptoms and then get more of the specific symptoms as your condition progresses.

These include:

  • Fatigue
  • Joint pain and swelling
  • Achy muscles
  • Recurring low-grade fever
  • Trouble concentrating
  • Digestive issues
  • Skin problems
  • Swollen glands
  • Hair loss


Here are some of the more common autoimmune diseases and their effects:

  • Rheumatoid Arthritis – Inflammation of the joints
  • Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis – Underproduction of thyroid hormones
  • Celiac Disease – Damage to the small intestine from an immune reaction to gluten, a protein found in wheat, barley, and rye
  • Graves’ Disease – Overproduction of thyroid hormones
  • Diabetes Type 1 – Underproduction of insulin by the pancreas
  • Vitiligo – Loss of pigment in patches of skin
  • Rheumatic Fever – Inflammation, especially of the heart, blood vessels, and joints
  • Alopecia Areata – Sudden hair loss
  • Immune Thrombocytopenic Purpura – Destruction of platelets in the blood, causes easy bruising and bleeding
  • Multiple Sclerosis – Damage to the protective covering of the nerves
  • Crohn’s Disease – Inflammation of the lining of the bowel
  • Addison’s Disease – Underproduction of adrenal steroid hormones
  • Sjögren Syndrome – Damage to salivary and tear glands
  • Psoriasis – Patches of scaly rash produced when skin cells multiply too fast
  • Lupus – Inflammation that can affect the joints, skin, kidneys, blood cells, brain, heart, and lungs

Causes of Autoimmune Disease

An immune system gone awry is basically the cause of all autoimmune diseases. The white blood cells that normally fight foreign invaders such as viruses, bacteria, and cancer, begin to attack your own healthy cells. However, scientists are not sure what causes your immune system to malfunction like this. Most of the evidence suggests that genetics plays a role, combined with environmental factors, lifestyle (smoking, for example), infections and/or tissue damage.

You’re more likely to get an autoimmune disease if you have one or more family members who have one, but you could get the same disease they have or a completely different one. For example, if your mother has rheumatoid arthritis, you could end up with alopecia or lupus. No one knows why this is true.

Autoimmune diseases are becoming more common today. Although no one is sure of the reason for this either, some believe it has to do with increasing pollution or other environmental factors.

Also, while your body is fighting off an infection, healthy cells can sometimes get caught in the crossfire. For example, the autoimmune condition psoriasis often develops after someone has had strep throat.

Hormones are also likely to play a role because 75 percent of affected patients are women. Pregnancy and menopause seem to affect the course of these diseases as well, sometimes improving them, and sometimes making them worse.


Autoimmune diseases are challenging to diagnose. Many of the earliest symptoms like fever and fatigue are found in a wide variety of illnesses. Symptoms often come and go. And a single autoimmune disease can show up in different ways in different people.

Your doctor will review your symptoms and health history, including any family history of autoimmune disease, before doing a physical exam. If the doctor suspects autoimmune disease, there are lab tests that can help with a diagnosis.

The antinuclear antibody test (ANA) is often one of the first tests doctors use. This test detects abnormal proteins called antinuclear antibodies that the immune system makes when it attacks your own cells. A positive result on this test means you may have an autoimmune disease but doesn’t narrow down which one.

Your doctor may perform further tests to measure autoantibodies produced in specific diseases, your white and red blood cell count, or several chemical indicators of inflammation.

Autoimmune Disease Treatment

There’s no cure for the vast majority of autoimmune diseases, but there are treatments that may help you manage your symptoms and lead a normal life. These treatments are designed mainly to:

  • Restore important substances that your body isn’t making (like thyroid hormones, in Hashimoto’s thyroiditis)
  • Fight the inflammation that will create further damage

Low dose naltrexone, which is only available as a compounded drug, is becoming a popular choice for treating autoimmune diseases. It may fight inflammation, reduce pain, and help normalize the immune system’s activity.

How Belmar Can Help

Belmar compounds low dose naltrexone, thyroid hormones, and medications that can target specific symptoms, including the mood changes that can occur when you are battling a chronic condition. We provide these medications in a variety of forms, strengths, and combinations for individualized dosing. We can also eliminate allergens or other substances that may aggravate your symptoms. We’re focused on ensuring your doctor has the right medication available to fit your specific needs, so that you can enjoy the best health and lifestyle possible.

If you have been diagnosed with an autoimmune disease, or are concerned about any of the symptoms on this page, contact us for more information and start a conversation with your doctor. Together, you can decide if a compounded prescription might be the right treatment for you.

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