What You Need to Know About Autoimmune Diseases Affecting Muscles

What you need to know about autoimmune diseases affecting muscles
The pain is real and it’s time to get some help. Learn how Functional Medicine can help autoimmune diseases of the muscles or Fibromyalgia.

You feel like you’ve just worked out for an hour – high-intensity training.  But all you did was walk up the stairs. Your body hurts without a good reason why; sometimes it’s impossible to turn over in bed or find a way to be comfortable. And sleep isn’t satisfying anymore. Could you be suffering from one of several autoimmune diseases of the muscles?

When your immune system starts attacking your muscles, or your nervous system, the results can be excruciating. Burning, aching, stabbing – you’ve experienced all the different types of pain. But outwardly you look fine. And well-meaning friends think you’re overexaggerating.

But the pain is real. And it’s time to get some help.

What Are the Symptoms of Fibromyalgia?

Fibromyalgia syndrome (FMS) is now recognized as an autoimmune disease that causes widespread pain in your body. Often triggered by a prior infection, stress, or trauma, fibromyalgia is a real disease that can have a huge impact on your life. It can mimic the symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis, or other autoimmune disease.

Do you struggle with:

  • Widespread pain in your body – which can be described as a burning sensation, ache, or sharp stabbing pain?
  • Pain that’s more pronounced in one area of your body, such as your neck or back?
  • Increased sensitivity to pain (hyperalgesia) – for example, normal knocks and jolts hurt for longer than usual?
  • Pain from sensations that normally shouldn’t cause pain (allodynia) such as light touches on your skin?
  • Fatigue?
  • Sensitivity to light?
  • Stiffness in the morning or when you’ve been sitting or lying down for a while?
  • Brain fog?
  • Waking up not feeling rested (non-restorative sleep)?
  • Headaches or migraines?
  • Constantly feeling too hot or too cold?
  • Pins and needles – numbness, tingling, prickling or burning sensations?

If these symptoms seem familiar, you could have fibromyalgia.

Fibromyalgia symptoms all center around a nervous system gone haywire, caused by glial cells in the brain and spine activating an inflammatory response towards a real or imagined response. Consequently, your levels of neurotransmitters can be much lower, reducing your pain threshold. Because your nervous system ranges across your entire body – as a clever relay of messages to protect you from harm – when it goes wrong, you experience a wide range of symptoms. But diverse reactions such as numb fingers, over-sensitized skin, neck pain, and headaches are indeed connected. And they can be debilitating.

How Is Fibromyalgia Diagnosed?

While scientists have recently invented a blood test for fibromyalgia, it’s not ready for clinical application. The FM/a test needs to be rigorously tested before releasing it to the public. In the meantime, there is no one test to diagnose fibromyalgia, but we can use a number of tests to rule out other autoimmune diseases, along with a physical examination.

The tests include:

  1. Physical exam – The tender points of fibromyalgia are no longer the best diagnosis tool for FMS. Instead, your doctor assesses you with the widespread pain index, checking 19 regions of the body, and scoring how many regions are painful. Your doctor combines this exam with a questionnaire assessing your symptom severity score.
  2. Blood tests – A blood test can check for changed levels of:
    1. Thyroid antibodies – to rule out autoimmune diseases of the thyroid
    2. Erythrocyte sedimentation rate (ESR) – ruling out polymyalgia rheumatica
    3. Antinuclear antibody (ANA)– ruling out lupus and other autoimmune diseases related to muscles and joints.
    4. Rheumatoid factor (RF) and Anti-CCP – ruling out rheumatoid arthritis.

Your doctor can also take a look at your complete blood count and vitamin D levels to check for any irregularities

3. Imaging tests – X-rays, MRIs,  and other possible tests to rule out other causes of symptoms.

A fibromyalgia diagnosis is not the end. Once you understand your condition you can take steps to improve your quality of life.

What Are the Symptoms of Mixed Connective Tissue Disease?

Mixed connective tissue disease (MCTD) is an autoimmune disorder of your connective tissue. Your connective tissue is a crucial and often overlooked part of your body. But it keeps everything together and makes up your muscle fibers, blood, cartilage, and bone – amongst other things!

In the case of mixed connective tissue disease, your immune system attacks the fibers that support your body. Because the disease attacks your muscle fibers, it causes weak and sore muscles, particularly in the hips and shoulders. The word “mixed” in the disease name refers to the mixed symptoms usually identified in other autoimmune diseases, such as lupus and polymyositis.

Do you struggle with:

  • Swollen fingers or hands?
  • Muscle and joint pain, similar to rheumatoid arthritis?
  • Raynaud’s disease – cold or numb fingers and toes?
  • A reddish brown rash on your knuckles?
  • Feeling under the weather, fatigued or even feverish?
  • Difficulty climbing stairs, or getting up out of bed or a chair?

If so, you may have mixed connective tissue disease.

It may be time to see a doctor if these symptoms seem familiar, as mixed connective tissue disease can have serious consequences. Remember that your connective tissue is all through your body, playing a supportive role to a number of your organs and everyday body functions.

Complications of mixed connective tissue disease include:

  • Anemia
  • Pulmonary hypertension
  • Damage to your kidneys
  • Heart disease
  • Interstitial lung disease
  • Damage to your digestive tract
  • Hearing loss
  • Tissue death

So it’s important to rule out other autoimmune diseases and seek out a proper diagnosis.

How Is Mixed Connective Tissue Disease Diagnosed?

As mixed connective tissue disease mimics a number of other autoimmune diseases, it’s important that your doctor rules other forms of autoimmunity out when assessing your symptoms. Blood tests are crucial to this end.

  1. Physical exam – your doctor needs to check your joints and hands for signs of swelling, Raynaud’s, and rashes for example.
  2. Blood test – A blood test can assess if there’s a change to your:
    1. Antinuclear antibodies (ANA) and ribonucleoprotein antibodies (RNP) – if you have high levels of both but with no increased levels of other autoimmune markers it’s likely you have mixed connective tissue disease.
    2. Antinuclear Antibody (ANA)– ruling out lupus.
    3. Rheumatoid factor (RF) and Anti-CCP – ruling out rheumatoid arthritis.
  3. Screening tests to check the heart, lungs, liver and kidneys – your doctor may want to check the disease progression and needs to identify if you’ve already experienced organ damage.

Though mixed connective tissue disease can be serious, it’s important to get a diagnosis as soon as possible so that you can manage the disease more effectively and get a handle on your health.

How Can Functional Medicine Help My Fibromyalgia or Mixed Connective Tissue Disease?

Functional medicine recognizes the importance of treating your body as a whole, not just zeroing in on treating individual symptoms with medication. Because your immune system is not isolated – it works alongside your digestion, hormones, brain, and other organs. A visit to a functional medicine doctor is not like other doctor office visits.

We concentrate on finding the underlying reason for your illness – your inflammation and autoimmunity could be linked to your:

  • Diet – Dietary changes can help reduce fibromyalgia symptoms, while MCTD has a link with iron and other nutritional deficiencies.
  • Digestive issues – Fibromyalgia and poor digestion go hand in hand: IBS is a common secondary disease. Leaky gut or intestinal permeability can often lead to increased pain. Patients with MCTD often struggle with an imbalanced gut microbiome
  • Sleep patterns – Fibromyalgia can disrupt your circadian rhythm, which in turn makes you more tired causing a vicious cycle as your body needs sleep to aid healing.
  • Stress and mood – Stress can worsen fibromyalgia symptoms, and depression is a common health condition for patients with both fibromyalgia and mixed connective tissue disease.
  • Inactivity – Physical activity may sound impossible right now, but endorphins and other important hormones can reduce pain levels and improve your mood.
  • Environment – While many modern toxins are unavoidable, by reducing the number of toxins you come into contact with, it may reduce inflammation.

We can help you in tackling the underlying causes of fibromyalgia and MCTD. If you’re interested in checking out functional medicine in the Phoenix, Scottsdale, Paradise Valley, Arizona area, call to book an appointment at 602 892-4727 or fill out our contact form. If you’re not local to us, check out  7 Weeks to Your Healthiest Self – my masterclass that provides you with the foundational benefits of functional medicine – from the comfort and privacy of your own home.

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