My Typical Autoimmune Patient
My Typical Autoimmune Patient
Let me start this article by saying that autoimmunity can affect ANYBODY, it does not discriminate based on gender, race, age, socioeconomic status - it can affect ANYBODY. This article is a generalization of the most common presentation in my functional medicine clinic - what I most commonly see in practice.
Often this patient is a woman of what I call “mom” age, maybe 20’s-50’s. (mom doesn’t mean they have to have kids, it just means old enough to have kids, yet not quite old enough to be grandma). This is not surprising, as autoimmunity certainly affects women much more frequently than men (but it does affect men also, like my dad and myself, for example).
The typical autoimmune patient has several seemingly unrelated symptoms - maybe fatigue, brain fog, anxiety, constipation, bloating, and joint pain. More often than not they have asked their primary care doctor, but are told that “All their labs look normal.” If the symptoms are persistent or bad enough, often they have been to specialists - neurologist for headaches, endocrinologist for thyroid, gastroenterologist for digestive complaints - but they are still left with little to no answers and told “Everything looks fine, we don’t know what’s wrong with you, try this medication.”
This person also often tells me “Oh my doctor ran A TON of labs and couldn’t find anything wrong.” When I look at the conventionally-run labs they are almost ALWAYS very basic and often not appropriate for an autoimmune patient!
Many times this “mom” has several kids. Often she will state that she “...remembers having (some) symptoms in younger years, but at the time nobody knew what was going on, and it kind of went away for awhile.” Often autoimmune patients can remember related symptoms from years or decades earlier that were mysterious and maybe transient, meaning they came and went away.
Often this mom will remember things like: “I felt okay after my first kid, but after my (2nd or 3rd or 4th child) I felt like I got hit by a bus and my ______ (brain fog, joint pain, headaches, depression, fatigue) got way worse.” This is because autoimmunity often flares around pregnancy, as the body goes through several different immune system “shifts” to prepare the baby for the outside world.
Often this mom has read multiple health-related books or blogs, listened to different podcasts, and generally has an awareness of healthy eating and non-toxic living, and tries to avoid things like too much fast food or sugar for their family.
This person has typically tried several different diet strategies, like going plant-based or doing a Whole30 and felt “much better, but it was hard to sustain”, or they went gluten-free for a couple weeks but didn’t notice much of a difference and gave up on it.
Often this person has tried many different supplements and is unsure on which are helping or not, so they have a grocery bag full of supplements - biotin for their hair, melatonin for sleep, B12 for energy, vitamin D, probiotics, fish oil, glucosamine for their joints - and they aren’t sure which are working or not working and they are overwhelmed.
This is just an example, but I see it all the time. Like I said, I see kids, dads, grandmas, you name it also, but this is common. If any of this is sounding familiar to you, you may have autoimmunity. You also may not, but to approach your case as a potential autoimmune case is still a good idea. Approaching your case from an autoimmune approach means a couple things:
- We have to look for what could be DRIVING the inflammation - foods, stress, toxins, hormones, and hidden infections
- We have to look at basic lab markers like a CBC, vitamin D levels, inflammatory markers
- We have to look at advanced labs like leaky gut/microbiome health, hormonal profile(s), or autoimmune testing
- We have to look at your lifestyle - diet, stress, sleep, exercise - and make improvements where we can!!