Many autoimmune diseases are characterised by chronic and severe pain, which can have a serious impact on quality of life, health, work, and even relationships.
It is never fun to wake up every morning with pain, which is why people with these conditions can have difficulties sleeping, experience mood swings, and become less active. This can lead to anxiety, depression, and stress, which make dealing with the pain even harder.
What is an autoimmune disease?
An autoimmune disease can be described as a condition where the immune system (mistakenly) attacks and kills healthy body cells. This leads to chronic pain and poor overall well-being.
There are at least 80 types of autoimmune diseases known to this date. These include:
- Rheumatoid arthritis
- Multiple sclerosis
- Coeliac disease
- Type 1 diabetes
- Crohn’s disease
Most autoimmune conditions share several symptoms and characteristics, such as redness, pain, and inflammation. These often occur due to the immune response cells attacking healthy cells. The symptoms experienced will however vary from one person to the other, depending on the type of autoimmune condition and the affected areas.
Scientists and researchers are yet to discover an effective cure for autoimmune conditions. Doctors use therapy and medication or recommend a lifestyle change to help manage most of these conditions and their symptoms. The main idea behind these approaches is to reduce pain, inflammation, and any other severe symptoms the patient may show. Pain medication and therapy can also help prevent the condition from progressing or worsening.
Outlined below are the 4 most common treatments for autoimmune conditions and how they can improve quality of life.
1. Over-the-counter pain medication
Naproxen, acetaminophen, ibuprofen, and aspirin are some of the most common over-the-counter pain medications for autoimmune conditions. These medications help relieve mild symptoms by reducing stiffness, inflammation, fever, and pain. With the right OTC therapy, it is quite possible to manage an autoimmune condition. The therapy will however depend on the type of condition, among several other factors.
It is worth noting that long-term (or even short-term) use of OTC pain medication can trigger side effects, including stomach ulcers and kidney damage. You should consult with your doctor before buying or using any of these.
2. Prescription medication
Over-the-counter medication is only recommended when looking to manage pain for the time being before seeking professional help. Prescription drugs can be used to treat severe pain. A doctor will prescribe the best remedy for relieving these symptoms, as well as helping prevent the condition from progressing. They may also prescribe supplements or substances that help provide the body with essential compounds, for example thyroid hormone replacements and insulin injections.
Your doctor will prescribe medication based on the type of autoimmune condition and underlying symptoms. Common prescriptions include:
- Immunosuppressants: these inhibit immune system action to protect affected organs.
- Opioids: these offer pain relief that is stronger than NSAIDs.
- Antidepressants: to manage anxiety and depression.
- Sleep medication: to counteract sleep problems and promote sleep.
- Blood thinners: to prevent blood clots.
- Steroids: to reduce inflammation caused by flare-ups.
It is worth noting that prescription medicines may trigger more side effects compared to over-the-counter drugs. They may also increase the risk of infections.
3. Lifestyle changes
A number of lifestyle changes can help manage an autoimmune disorder. Some of the recommended lifestyle changes include:
- Focus on a balanced diet. A balanced diet plan will help provide the body with most of the essential nutrients required to keep you healthy. Dietary experts recommend adding lots of fresh vegetables, fruits, low-fat dairy products, and whole grains to your diet. Poultry, eggs, fish, beans, and other lean meats are excellent sources of protein too. You should also limit processed and fast foods, especially those loaded with saturated fats, sugars, and salt. Limiting your alcohol and caffeine intake will help too.
- Regular exercise. This can also help manage symptoms. Although you may be hurting, putting in at least 15 minutes of physical exercise can help improve flexibility, blood circulation, and range of motion, and also fight fatigue. Regular exercise triggers an increased release of endorphins, the compounds/hormones known to fight off stress, depression, and anxiety. Simple but low-impact exercises such as yoga, swimming, or taking a walk are ideal as they avoid overworking the body and worsening inflammation.
- Get plenty of rest. Rest is particularly important for people with autoimmune conditions. Rest gives the body a fighting chance, and can also improve most symptoms. It’s therefore advisable to get at least 7 hours of sleep every night. Daytime naps can work wonders too.
- Stress relief. Stress and depression are known to trigger flare-ups, worsening inflammation. Keeping stress in check through meditation, deep breathing, or aromatherapy can help manage symptoms.
4. Alternative therapies
Alternative therapies may also be used to help improve symptoms and quality of life. Some of the therapies you can try include:
- Physical therapy: this is mainly aimed at reducing the effects and symptoms of the condition. Physical therapy can relieve joint weakness and pains and improve co-ordination, joint stiffness, and numbness in limbs.
- Occupational therapy: this treatment option focuses on different ways to manage symptoms of pain, and pain itself, especially when driving, getting dressed, bathing, or even working. Your physician will recommend medical devices to help accomplish such tasks easily.
- Other therapies: these include hypnosis, chiropractic, acupuncture, and biofeedback.
Managing an autoimmune condition isn’t always easy, and identifying the right treatment option can take time. Many people try several options before settling for one that works best. It’s important to stay focused and positive while weighing options on the best treatment method for the condition.