"Autoimmune disorders", Fibromyalgia, Health, Sjogren's Syndrome, Women's health

Women’s Health Part I: A Body of Unhealth, Autoimmune Disorders, by Beverly Hicks Burch

This year I would like to address some issues near and dear to me, and those are the issues of women’s health. Hopefully this will be the first in a series. While I will try and explain, I will try not to bog the reader down with too much technical info that will make your eyes glaze over. Some things will just come from the heart and experience.

Autoimmune disorders. They sound scary. What are they? Probably the most famous autoimmune disease is the HIV/AIDS virus. The HIV/AIDS virus can be transmitted through contact, unlike autoimmune disorders and syndromes which are non-communicable. So, no, you can’t catch them! There may be a genetic pre-disposition in families for certain disorders, but that’s totally different. A genetic pre-disposition is kinda like freckles. They DO share one common trait…autoimmune diseases and disorders produce cells that attack a body’s own systems, tissues, joints, organs, etc. The result is destruction…in effect the body is destroying itself or better put, it is producing substances that are attacking and destroying it. Women are more likely to be afflicted than men, but men are not impervious from these aliments. What are some commonly known autoimmune disorders and diseases?

  • Rheumatoid arthritis
  • Addison’s Disease
  • Multiple Sclerosis
  • Scleroderma
  • Lupus
  • Sjogren’s Syndrome
  • Diabetes
  • Thyroid disease

This is just a very, very short list. According to a recent article in Arthritis Today, the publication of the Arthritis Foundation (www.arthritis.org), arthritis is just a symptom of several such diseases…and they count 104.

I deal personally with several of these diseases. I was diagnosed with Sjogren’s Syndrome in 1993, but it took many years of pain and suffering to arrive at that diagnosis…and uninformed doctors and doctors who thought is was “all in my head” (www.sjogrens.org; www.ninds.nih.gov/disorders/sjogrens/sjogrens.htm). Sjogren’s is similar to lupus, but not as “famous” as its cousin. Sjogren’s is most know for the symptoms of dry eyes, dry mouth, and in women vaginal dryness. I can vouch there is a plethora of other symptoms and complications that go along with Sjogren’s. They’re not quite sure what causes Sjogren’s or what the stressor or trigger could be. Some experts believe the birth of a child could be the stressor, as the result of small amounts placental cell material remaining in the mother after birth. I know that 6 months after the birth of my son, my right wrist was in such pain, it had to be wrapped with a bandage to immobilize it and steady it just so I could use it. There are several tests for determining Sjogren’s…I’ve had the lip biopsy, blood test, Slant lamp eye test and others. At my last eye exam, my tear film was totally gone.

Another article I read said that an estimated 90% of female Sjogren’s patients were post-menopausal. The question in the article: Which came first? Kind of like the chicken or the egg… My experience…I started going through menopause in my early 30’s, but doctors wouldn’t believe me. I was too young they said. All they wanted to do was place me on hormones and do D & C’s. Years later, one doctor did a FSH test (http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/003710.htm) and the lab score came back 45 clearly indicating post-menopausal. Yet, the doctors still dilly dallied with the issue because they deemed me too young. Finally in 2001, during the turmoil of a traumatic divorce, one doctor had the foresight to do yet another FSH test, this one indicating a lab result of 75! Clearly post-menopausal and this time they believed…they really did!

Other organs can become involved. Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, an autoimmune thyroid disorder is common in Sjogren’s patients. I was recently diagnosed with hypothyroidism another autoimmune disorder. For years, I was undiagnosed as were many people, but a few years ago, the American Association of Clinical Endocrinologist realigned their clinical standards for that very reason. My skin had become so dry and itchy it was intolerable. I could have lathered Crisco onto my skin and it would have still felt dry! Since I have started my medication, the difference is astounding. There are blood tests for thyroid disorders. (http://www.aace.com/)

In addition, I have Raynaud’s Syndrome (http://www.niams.nih.gov/hi/topics/raynaud/ar125fs.htm), am a two time lung cancer survivor (I had never smoked), have Fibromyalgia, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, neuropathy and…well you get the picture. I could make a big ol’ laundry list here, but later on, I’ll discuss some of these. My point? Well, there’s really a few:

  1. First, autoimmune disorders will tend to cluster…so be aware…but don’t be a hypochondriac. Find as much enjoyment and fullfillment in life as you can. Learn how to pace yourself and say no.
  2. Be a proactive and informed patient. Educate yourself. There is plenty of information available today…online and otherwise…and find a doctor that will listen! But, please, don’t believe in snake oil…if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is…
  3. Take care of yourself…and if need be allow those that love you to do the same

I don’t know why we get these ailments and doctors don’t many times. All I know is that timing can be everything in managing them. I agree with King Solomon…”There is an appointed time for everything. And there is a time for every event under heaven…” Ecclesiastes 3:1

Ecclesiastes 3:1-10

© 2007 Beverly Hicks Burch All rights reserved.

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