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Finding pain relief for your autoimmune disease

Posted September 27, 2021 by Aisha Rahman, MD

woman with a smile on the phone looking at a pill bottle

Chronic, severe pain from autoimmune diseases can have a detrimental impact on your health, work and relationships. When you’re suffering from chronic pain day in and day out, it’s only natural that you become less active, antisocial, moody and find it difficult to sleep.  

Not to mention, the stress, anxiety and even depression that comes from dealing with pain can make it even worse.

Autoimmune diseases are a chronic condition in which your immune system mistakenly attacks and kills the body’s cells. There are more than 80 known types, but some of the most common autoimmune diseases include:

  • Rheumatoid arthritis
  • Lupus
  • Multiple sclerosis
  • Type 1 diabetes
  • Celiac disease
  • Crohn’s disease
  • While the body’s organs and tissues affected depend on the type of autoimmune disease you have, they all seem to share one common symptom: inflammation, redness and pain. These symptoms are a direct result of the immune system “fighting” certain parts of the body.

    There is no cure for autoimmune diseases, but there are medications, therapies and proven lifestyle changes that can help you better manage your condition and relieve the pain they cause. The primary goal of treatment is to reduce inflammation, pain and other debilitating symptoms, while restricting the progression of the disease, if possible.

    Summa Health discusses 4 common treatments for autoimmune diseases so you can improve your ability to function and live a better life.

    1. Over-the-counter therapies

    OTC medicines, such as Aspirin, Ibuprofen, Acetaminophen and Napoxen, are likely the first line of treatment your doctor will recommend. They can help relieve mild symptoms, such as reducing pain, inflammation, stiffness and fever.

    The right OTC therapy will depend on your autoimmune disease. Be sure to talk to your doctor first, however, because long-term use can cause serious side effects, such as kidney damage and stomach ulcers.

    2. Prescription drugs

    If OTC therapies aren’t working or if you’re experiencing severe pain, the next step is likely prescription medicine. Prescription drugs can be used to relieve symptoms, as well as prevent the underlying autoimmune disease from getting worse.

    You may also be given medicines to replace vital substances your body needs to function, such as insulin injections or thyroid hormone replacements.

    Since there is a wide range of autoimmune diseases, your doctor will prescribe drugs based on your condition and specific symptoms. They may include:

  • Immunosuppressants that inhibit activity of your immune system to better manage your condition and protect organ function
  • Opioids for stronger pain relief
  • Antidepressants to reduce anxiety and depression
  • Sleep medicines that fight fatigue and sleep problems
  • Blood thinners to prevent blood clots
  • Steroids to reduce inflammation from flare-ups
  • Just beware these prescription medicines can come with more side effects than OTC drugs, such as making you more susceptible to infection.

    3. Lifestyle changes

    Lifestyle changes can go a long way in reducing your symptoms. Your doctor will likely recommend the following as important components in helping you feel better.

  • Balanced diet: Nourishing your body is essential in managing an autoimmune disease. It’s important your diet is chock full of fruits, vegetables, whole grains and low-fat dairy products. Lean meats, such as poultry, fish, beans and eggs, are great sources of protein. The goal is to avoid processed foods with extra sugar and salt. Also, be sure to limit your intake of saturated fats, alcohol and caffeine.
  • Regular exercise: Exercise is beneficial for your overall health, but it also can reduce symptoms from autoimmune diseases. Exercise helps fight fatigue and increase flexibility, range of motion and blood circulation. Not to mention, it releases feel-good endorphins to fight stress, anxiety and depression. Just remember to not over do it. You may want to start with low-impact exercises, such as walking, swimming or yoga.
  • Proper rest: Rest is important for everyone, but especially those with autoimmune diseases. Rest gives your body a chance to heal and recover. Not enough sleep can make symptoms worse. Aim for seven to nine hours each night. If you have problems sleeping at night, catch up on your rest during the day with a nap.
  • Stress relief: Stress can cause symptoms to get worse and even trigger a flare-up. So, be sure to incorporate relaxation techniques into your day, such as breathing exercises, meditation or aromatherapy. Also, maintaining a healthy diet, exercising regularly and getting enough sleep can all help reduce stress, too.
  • 4. Alternative therapies

    Your doctor may recommend alternative therapies that have been shown to help those with autoimmune diseases get symptom relief and improve their quality of life.

    Physical therapy focuses on learning specific exercises designed to reduce symptoms. It can be beneficial in helping you build muscle mass to relieve joint pain and weakness. It can also help numbness in your limbs, coordination problems and joint stiffness.

    Occupational therapy focuses on making daily tasks easier, so you can live a more independent, active life. An occupational therapist can teach you different methods to reduce pain and symptoms when bathing, getting dressed or driving, for instance. They can also prescribe medical devices that can make it easier to accomplish daily tasks.

    Other alternative therapies that might help give you symptom relief include biofeedback, hypnosis, acupuncture and chiropractic.

    Finding the right treatment for your autoimmune disease can take time. You may have to try several options before finding the right one or a combination to best manage your condition. Try to remain positive during the process because once you do find the right treatment, it can make all the difference in keeping you active and healthy.

    The Summa Health Pain Management team provides comprehensive pain management services using the latest innovations in traditional and non-traditional pain treatment. Our pain-management specialists use a team-based approach to work closely with you to identify the cause of your pain and then develop an individualized treatment plan. The goal is to manage your pain, and to keep you active and healthy. Call 330.865.5333 to schedule an evaluation with our Pain Management team.


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