Your immune system protects you from disease and
infection, but if you have an autoimmune disease, your
body attacks its own healthy cells by mistake.
Autoimmune diseases can affect many parts of the body.
For example, Crohn’s disease affects the
gastrointestinal tract, colitis the colon, multiple
sclerosis the central nervous system, lupus the joints
and tissues, and fibromyalgia and complex regional pain
syndrome can affect a number of areas of the body.
In fact, there are more than 80 types of
autoimmune diseases, and some have similar symptoms,
according to the American Chronic Pain Association.
Getting diagnosed can be frustrating and stressful. In
many people, the first symptoms are feeling tired and
having muscle aches and a low fever. The diseases may
also have flare-ups when they get worse. They also don’t
usually go away, and sometimes severe pain is associated
with them. Fortunately, the pain can be treated.
“We try to relieve pain, which also can
lead to sleep difficulty and depression, with various
treatment approaches, including pharmacological measures
such as opioids, but this is just one category,” says
Dr. Nileshkumar Patel, a pain specialist with Advanced
Pain Management in Milwaukee. “We will also try other
medications, such as antidepressants and anti-seizure
medication, as well as nonopioids.”
When possible, physicians will recommend
adjuvant or additional therapies, working with a team of
other medical service providers. “We will try physical
therapy, exercise programs, ultrasound and iontophoresis,
in which electrical stimulation is used to deliver
medication to the muscles,” Patel explains. At times, he
adds, surgery may be recommended if appropriate.
Some individuals may find relief from
alternative therapies; for example, joint pain and
stiffness can be eased with acupuncture and massage.
People with rheumatoid arthritis
frequently suffer from joint pain. A treatment that has
been quite successful in relieving joint pain is
radiofrequency ablation, according to Patel. “An
electrical current produced by a radio wave is used to
heat up a small area of nerve tissue, thereby decreasing
pain signals from that specific area. It stuns the nerve
and usually relief lasts 9 to 12 months,” he explains.
Patel is encouraged by the success of a
new treatment he is using with some of his patients:
high-frequency spinal cord stimulation. “Leads are
placed in the back near the spine, sending electric
pulses to disrupt the pain signals to the brain,” he
says. This new technology improves upon low-frequency
stimulators that essentially hide the pain with
numbness. “The device was approved by the FDA last
year,” he adds.
“I had one patient who was so desperate
to be rid of her pain, she wanted to have her leg
amputated. Fortunately, she was helped by some of the
new technology,” Patel says. “People who did not have
anywhere else to turn may get relief. It literally can
Autoimmune Ailments Affect Oral Health
If you suffer from some autoimmune
diseases like fibromyalgia or chronic fatigue syndrome,
it’s likely you could also be suffering from
temporomandibular joint disorder (TMD), affecting the
jaw. TMD and bruxism — or teeth grinding — have been
found in the majority of people with these illnesses.
“Up to 85 percent of people with fibromyalgia also have
TMD. There is a huge correlation between them,” says Dr.
Jay Mackman of the TMJ Pain & Orofacial Treatment
Centers of Wisconsin.
Many people go from physician to
physician to seek a diagnosis, Mackman says. “People may
see seven to 10 other doctors — an ENT, neurologist,
headache specialist and others — before they are
referred to us,” he says. But once diagnosed, there is
treatment available that may include physical therapy,
nutritional recommendations and the use of stress
reduction techniques, medications and trigger point
injections. An acrylic appliance that fits over the
teeth also can offer relief.
Individuals suffering from lupus, another
autoimmune disorder, have problems with orofacial pain,
Mackman adds. “The muscles tighten up, and we recommend
they are fitted for a night guard, which they will wear
for the rest of their life,” he says. “Help is
— JoAnn Petaschnick