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What is an Autoimmune Flare Up and What Can I Do About It?

What is an Autoimmune Flare Up

When working properly the immune system functions by recognizing sources of infection and disease then taking the appropriate action to eliminate or remove that threat. In the case of autoimmune disease, the immune system cannot differentiate between healthy body tissue and harmful or invasive elements.

For example, Hashimoto’s thyroiditis causes the immune system to perceive the thyroid gland as a threat. This triggers the subsequent release of antibodies that attempt to destroy thyroid tissue. Regardless of the systems impacted, autoimmune disorders cause a wide range of symptoms. Patients may also experience significant intensification of these symptoms due to autoimmune flare ups.

An autoimmune flare up is a temporary worsening and intensification of symptoms. This is usually triggered by an additional stress on an already malfunctioning and weakened immune system.

In some cases, symptoms can reach such intensity that patients become incapable of completing their daily activities. If a person is suffering from severe symptoms that causes them to remain inactive, unable to think clearly, or incapable of getting out of bed, it is safe to assume that they are experiencing an autoimmune flare up.

Symptoms of Immune Dysfunction

When the immune system is dysregulated, it is easier for an inappropriate immune response to trigger. Disruption of immune balance means that even minor events and stressors can induce a flare up. Generally, flare ups increase the intensity of symptoms relating to the existing autoimmune condition.

Patient experience of flare ups differ greatly depending on the person and their current condition. Some may experience many symptoms at a moderate intensity whereas others may experience a handful of debilitating symptoms for an extended period. For example, those with chronic fatigue or multiple sclerosis may become so weak that they become incapable of leaving their bed due to intense pain and discomfort.

The following symptoms are frequently associated with autoimmune dysfunction and flare ups. The most common symptoms that accompany a flare up are extreme fatigue and reduced sleep quality or duration. Depending on individual health, patients may experience other symptoms in addition to those listed below.

  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Difficulty thinking clearly
  • Digestive issues including but not limited to constipation, nausea, bloating and gas
  • Dizziness
  • Fatigue that doesn’t go away with rest
  • Headaches
  • Increased heart rate
  • Insomnia
  • Muscle or full body aches
  • Puffiness, often located around the eyes
  • Reduced ability to regulate temperature
  • Unexplained weight gain

Click here to download a sample labslip to test for autoimmune thyroid disease.

Don’t Let History Repeat Itself

When experiencing an autoimmune flare up it can be helpful to keep track of the symptoms that develop and rating their intensity. Standard medical practice utilizes a numerical pain rating from 1 to 10. A one qualifies as mild discomfort whereas a ten is frequently assigned to severe pain caused by flare ups. This ranking method can also be used to gauge the flare itself. For those who experience multiple flare ups, tracking the severity of each occurrence can provide insight into what events or environments trigger significant episodes.

Keeping track of possible triggers allows you to plan for and avoid them in the future. Some of the most common causes of flare ups are additional stress and lack of sleep which are also associated with autoimmune conditions in general.

Other common autoimmune triggers include:

  • Chronic nutrient deficiencies
  • Exposure to endocrine disruptors
  • Hormone imbalances
  • Insomnia or reduced sleep quality
  • Leaky gut syndrome
  • Physical or emotional stress
  • Traumatic life event (divorce, death in the family, car accident etc.)
  • Viral infections

Tips to Combat Flare Ups and Restore Immune Function

It may seem intimidating trying to eliminate all the factors and triggers associated with autoimmune disruption. However, there are many practical methods that can reduce the impact of flares and help limit their occurrence.

Simplify your schedule: It is common for people to overload the calendar with different activities and responsibilities. Additional stress brought on by these commitments may not only contribute to flare ups but also sustain them. Eliminating unnecessary plans and doing away with stress-inducing commitments, at least until the flare is over, supports immune stability and can help return the body to normalcy.

Eat a Nutrient Dense Diet: Preparing and eating simple meals that contain a high volume of nutrients can help support the immune system. Using a crock-pot or other slow-cook method can help reduce prep time and energy investment while still supplying a lot of nutritional value.

As an added measure, try incorporating healthy fats into your meals. Good fat is necessary for protecting the myelin sheath, which insulates nerve endings. During flare ups, nerves are exceptionally sensitive. Protecting them from inflammation by consuming foods like olive oil, grass-fed butter and avocados can help reduce triggering.

Limit Physical Activity: Extreme fatigue is often a primary symptom for those experiencing a flare. This means that many rarely have enough energy to do minimal activity around the house let alone exercise. It is important to avoid overexerting oneself during a flare up because doing so will likely increase its duration and intensity.

Even though it is important to avoid exertion, doing minor physical activity and moving at least a little each day is beneficial. There are many programs available that outline low impact and low intensity stretches and cardio activities that can be done in the home and are unlikely to cause unnecessary exertion and physical stress.

Prioritize Rest: When suffering from a flare up, it can be difficult to get enough good, quality sleep during normal sleeping hours. If the body is ready and able to sleep, it is important to take the opportunity to do so. Getting as much rest as possible is essential to restoring healthy bodily function and normalizing immune response.

Trust Yourself and Protect Your Health

If you recognize that a flare up may be developing it is important to trust your intuition and take action to reduce immune stress. Proactively supporting your immune system by using the tips provided should be done as soon as there is any inkling of a flare up.

Autoimmune dysfunction is complex and flare ups can be debilitating. But by becoming more informed of your condition, limiting contributing factors and engaging in immune-restoring practices you can reduce the impact and occurrence of autoimmune flare ups.

Resources

1. What To Do During And After An Autoimmune Flare. Thyroid Nation. https://thyroidnation.com/autoimmune-flare/

2. 10 Important Tips for Reducing a Flare Up. Get Autoimmune Strong. https://www.getautoimmunestrong.com/blog/2017/3/19/10-important-tips-for-reducing-a-flare-up

3. Assessing Severity of Autoimmune Flares. Autoimmune Mom. http://www.autoimmunemom.com/general-autoimmune/assessing-severity-of-autoimmune-flares.html

4. Hashimoto’s Syptoms. Restart Med. https://www.restartmed.com/hashimotos-symptoms/#tab-con-4

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