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What is an Autoimmune Disease? Here’s an Overview

An autoimmune disease is a condition in which your immune system mistakenly attacks your body. When it’s working properly, your immune system protects your body against attacks from bacteria and viruses, but sometimes it can become confused and start fighting healthy cells instead.

As you can imagine, this can have a serious impact on your overall health and well-being. Scientists have identified approximately 80 different kinds of autoimmune diseases so far, and more research is being done all the time to find out exactly why this happens. Autoimmune diseases can cause a range of seemingly unrelated symptoms, including overwhelming fatigue, joint pain and swelling, digestive issues, recurring and unexplained fever, swollen glands, skin problems, and others.

Traditional medicine typically focuses on controlling the symptoms rather than addressing the root cause of the issue. It’s very common for doctors to prescribe medications such as anti-inflammatory drugs, corticosteroids, immunosuppressants and painkillers to help people resume their normal activities and physical therapy to help people regain mobility in their muscles and joints. 

Functional medicine takes a completely different approach. Rather than masking each symptom, it focuses on identifying and treating the root cause so your body can begin reversing autoimmunity. The goal is not just to put a stop to symptoms but to restore your health so you can get back to doing the things you love. You deserve to live an abundant life with freedom from illness.

Our functional medicine office is located in Johnson City, Tennessee. Schedule a free discovery call today.

What are Common Autoimmune Diseases?

Autoimmune disease might be more common than you think. They are complex and chronic diseases that can have a number of triggers. The hardest part is figuring out what’s causing the symptoms because once we’ve tracked down the cause, we can start modifying your lifestyle to manage it.

Here are some of the common ones we treat at Tri-Cities Functional Medicine:

Type 1 Diabetes

Type 1 diabetes occurs when the immune system attacks the insulin-producing cells in the pancreas, stopping the body from producing the hormone that allows it to convert glucose (a type of sugar) into energy. It most commonly develops in children or teens. It’s not known exactly what causes Type 1 diabetes to occur, although scientists believe that genetics and viruses may play a part. It can affect all the major organs in your body and can cause severe complications such as heart disease, nerve damage, kidney damage, eye damage, foot damage, skin conditions, and pregnancy complications. 

They key to managing Type 1 diabetes in a way that allows you to live a full life free from symptoms is to manage your blood sugar levels. Frequent monitoring, eating a healthy diet, exercising regularly, and maintaining a healthy weight all play a big part. Your functional medicine doctor will work with you to develop a plan that suits your lifestyle while providing life-long benefits.

Rheumatoid Arthritis

Rheumatoid arthritis occurs when the body’s immune system attacks the lining of the joints, including those in the hands and feet. It’s a chronic inflammatory condition that can cause painful swelling. In severe cases, it can spread to nearby joints such as ankles, knees, wrists, and elbows, as well as vital organs. The symptoms can vary widely from person to person and often come and go based on lifestyle factors. They typically advance over time, causing joints to lose shape. It increases your risk of developing conditions such as osteoporosis and carpal tunnel syndrome.

Diagnosing rheumatoid arthritis can be tricky, which means a physical exam often holds just as much weight as blood tests or imaging. In addition to traditional treatments, functional medicine doctors look for natural ways to alleviate symptoms, such as regular exercise, using hot or cold treatments to ease pain, looking for ways to alleviate stressors in your life, and prescribing supplements. You don’t have to live with the symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis forever. Ask your doctor about your options.

Celiac Disease

Celiac disease is a serious autoimmune disease that is caused by gluten, which is a common protein found in grains including wheat and barley. The reaction causes inflammation in the lining of the small intestine, which can cause symptoms such as diarrhea, bloating, fatigue, anemia, and more.

The best way to treat it is through diet. A functional medicine doctor can diagnose the disease and put together a treatment plan that will manage your symptoms and help you reclaim your health.

Multiple Sclerosis

Multiple sclerosis (MS) occurs when the immune system mistakenly attacks the protective coating on the nerves in the brain and spinal cord. This can disrupt the signals the brain sends the body. The symptoms vary from person to person, but they commonly affect vision, coordination, energy levels, strength, and mental health. Multiple sclerosis can also cause chronic pain.

It’s still not known exactly what causes this autoimmune disease to occur. Resting, exercising, relieving stress, and eating a balanced diet can help relieve symptoms. However, a functional medicine doctor may also do a deep dive into your gut health (to see if your body is properly absorbing nutrients) as well as heavy metal testing (to see if other factors, such as high mercury levels, may be damaging your cells). If you’re living with multiple sclerosis, and you’re not finding the answers you need in traditional medicine, it may be time to consider a functional medicine approach. We’re here to help.


Psoriasis is an autoimmune disease that arises when the body starts attacking healthy skin cells, which can cause a dry and scaly rash to occur. It most commonly appears on the scalp, knees, elbows, and torso, and it typically flares up and goes into remission in cycles. It can be incredibly itchy and uncomfortable and often causes patients to become self-conscious about their appearance. If it’s left untreated, it can also lead to joint problems, which can eventually affect daily tasks.

Psoriasis can be triggered by a range of things, such as weather, infections, injuries, stress, smoking, alcohol consumption, or certain medications. Daily exposure to sunlight, dietary supplements, daily baths, and medicated ointments can make a difference. However, like most autoimmune conditions, the solution is often deeply rooted in lifestyle changes. Your functional medicine doctor will talk you through your options during your initial consultation so you can start developing a treatment plan.

Symptoms sound familiar? Come to our free autoimmune solutions webinar.

How do You Know if You Have an Autoimmune Disease?

Autoimmune diseases can be difficult to diagnose because they generally present with a number of symptoms that can be caused by a range of different factors. When you meet with your functional medicine doctor for the first time, they will take the time to talk through all of the different issues you’re experiencing. They will conduct a thorough physical exam and talk to you about your lifestyle so they can start to look for any common triggers that may be causing your symptoms.

Functional medicine doctors take a holistic approach to your health and wellness, which means they’ll keep their eyes open for any signs that could suggest your symptoms are linked to a root cause, such as an autoimmune disease. Remember, many of these symptoms can have multiple causes, so don’t try to self-diagnose. Generally, the best way to confirm the diagnosis is to order a blood test looking for signs of antibodies that are not caused by the presence of an infection.

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Can an Autoimmune Disease be Cured?

Autoimmune diseases can be effectively controlled, which will allow you to reclaim your health and live a life free from chronic symptoms. The secret to success might surprise you: it’s gut health.

The digestive tract is responsible for a huge amount of the antibodies excreted as part of an autoimmune response. If the gut is inflamed, irritated, or agitated, it will directly impact your immune system and may trigger many of the symptoms we’ve already discussed. This means the best way to treat autoimmune disease is by embracing a healthy lifestyle, including a balanced diet, plenty of water, regular exercise, and plenty of sleep. This is why functional medicine provides such effective treatment strategies. We focus on restoring whole body health, and our team is here to provide you the education and support you need to make changes that will enhance your well-being over the long term. In doing so, we can alleviate chronic conditions like autoimmune disease.

Our philosophy is simple. We’re here to give you the tools you need to take charge of your health and fulfill your purpose. Our service is grounded in compassion and personalized care. Every person is unique, so we provide the level of care required to help each individual enjoy freedom from illness for the rest of their lives. If you’re ready to start this journey, we welcome you to schedule a free discovery call to learn about your options.

Take the first step today. Call our team and let’s get started.

Tri-Cities Functional Medicine is located in Johnson City, Tennessee, and serves patients throughout Tennessee and into Virginia, North Carolina, West Virginia and Kentucky. These areas include but are not limited to: Washington County, TN, Sullivan County, TN, Carter County, TN, Greene County, TN, Knox County, TN, Bristol, TN, Holston Valley, TN, Tri-Cities, TN, Walnut Hill, TN, Elizabethton, TN, Greeneville, TN, Morristown, TN, Blountville, TN, Bluff City, TN, Kingsport, TN, Jonesborough, TN, Colonial Heights, TN, Limestone, TN, Knoxville, TN, Bristol, VA, Abingdon, VA, Grundy, VA, Asheville, NC, Boone, NC.