How your rheumatologist can treat autoimmune diseases

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promedicahealthconnect.org

        Your immune system is meant to protect you, but sometimes it doesn’t work as it should. Autoimmune diseases, such as rheumatoid arthritis or lupus, can affect how your immune system responds to even healthy organs.
        “Anytime we get the flu or even a scratch, the immune system helps us heal, fight bugs and bacteria,” explained Amrita Padda, MD, ProMedica Physicians Rheumatology. “When it comes to autoimmune diseases, the immune system gets confused and starts attacking our own organ system.”
        Autoimmune diseases affect a variety of organs, including the joints, skin, eyes, lungs and thyroid. They can also affect just one organ or multiple organs. And, they can be associated with a more systemic autoimmune disease. That’s where a rheumatologist comes in.
        “Primary care providers always send patients to the rheumatologist to go through a full history, physical and possibly some more lab work to make sure they don’t have another autoimmune disease or a more systemic autoimmune disease that could explain this problem,” Dr. Padda said.
        Rheumatologists work with all kind of medical specialists as part of a care team. Treatment often begins with steroids, which will help quiet the immune system, but Dr. Padda tells her patients that it’s not a long-term solution due to its many side effects.
        “Depending on what type of autoimmune disease a patient has, we have all types of steroid-sparing agents. These medications work similar to steroids but don’t have all the side effects and can be given long term,” explained Dr. Padda.
        Lifestyle changes can also play an important role in managing autoimmune diseases. A healthy diet that includes fruits, vegetables, protein, fiber and non-processed foods can help.
        “Maintaining a normal weight is very important, too, because being overweight, the fat cells actually produce inflammatory cytokines that can mess with the immune system and lead to accelerated arthritis and other problems,” said Dr. Padda. “Exercising is also one of the recommendations for most of our diseases because it actually decreases the disease activity, such as in rheumatoid arthritis.”
        If you have an autoimmune disease, your primary care provider may recommend that you see a rheumatologist to talk about potential causes and treatment options.
        Find more stories to help you live your healthiest at promedicahealthconnect.org.

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