Autoimmune disease occurs when the immune system erroneously attacks one or more organ systems within the body. According to Aarda.org, some 23 million Americans have autoimmune disease, and its frequency is on the rise. Symptoms and prognoses vary wildly from patient to patient and even within the same person over time. Autoimmune conditions share many core symptoms, but the organ system(s) affected determine the specific diagnosis.
Joint pain is one of the most common symptoms of autoimmune disease. It is a chief complaint among lupus, rheumatoid arthritis and Hashimoto's thyroiditis sufferers and many others. Symmetrical joint pain that comes on suddenly, is particularly debilitating or is accompanied by a fever or rash is more likely to be indicative of autoimmune disease than gradually-developing pain in a single joint.
For many people with autoimmune disease, fatigue is a constant companion. While the exact cause isn't known, inflammation caused by constant immune overactivity is thought to be partially responsible. Most autoimmune sufferers experience some degree of fatigue from time to time. Decreased stamina, brain fog and unrefreshing sleep often accompany this particular brand of fatigue and can be indicative of a number of conditions.
Fever is the body's way of fighting off infection. In autoimmune disease, fever is caused by a dysfunctional immune system attacking its host. Persistent low-grade fever is not uncommon in diseases like lupus and rheumatoid arthritis, but may not be noticeable to the patient without use of a thermometer. A temperature higher than 37.2 degrees C that lasts over six months can indicate autoimmune activity and warrants further examination.
With over 100 conditions classified as autoimmune diseases, the symptom list for this type of condition is virtually endless. Sudden weight changes, rash, allergy-like symptoms, mood and personality changes and recurrent infections are all possible symptoms. Nonspecific complaints like fatigue, low mood and aches and pains are common, as are more specific symptoms like loss of vision. Because autoimmune disease can affect multiple organ systems, symptoms may involve one or more areas of the body.
Autoimmune disease shares many symptoms with other disorders. The only way to be certain you have an autoimmune disease is by undergoing special tests administered by a physician, immunologist or other medical professional.