Chronic Pain and Autoimmune Diseases

There are approximately two million Canadians suffering with autoimmune diseases. Of these people more than 75% are female. Why? Women have enhanced immune systems compared to men which increases their resistance to various types of infections but this also makes them more susceptible to autoimmunity. Getting a diagnosis can be very difficult and lengthy. Over 45% of patients with autoimmune diseases are labelled by our mainstream medical community as “chronic complainers” in the early stages of their illness and each person will see up to three doctors in a four year period before a proper diagnosis is given (Survey by the Autoimmune Diseases Association). 

Unfortunately, in the history of medicine doctors have treated women’s illnesses of their reproductive systems as normal.  This has lead to women on a long term trek of visiting many doctors before a diagnosis for their autoimmune disease.  In her book “Doing Harm” Maya Dusenbery discusses this phenomenon at length.  One quote included in her book: “As a general rule, all women are hysterical and . . . every woman carries with her the seeds of hysteria,” wrote the French physician Auguste Fabre in 1883. Unfortunately, the stereotype of hysteria in women is still alive today, and prevents women from a timely and accurate diagnosis for their pain.  In contrast, men experience more empathy, and doctors are more readily prone to believing they are in pain, even if the source can’t be identified.  

An autoimmune disease is defined by the American Academy of Allergy Asthma & Immunology as “An illness that causes the immune system to produce antibodies that attack normal body tissues.” In other words, your body is attacking itself or a part of itself because it sees it as a foreign entity or threat. Why? We don’t know. Chronic pain from inflammation is one of our body’s responses to this attack, which is why it is so prevalent as a symptom in many autoimmune diseases. 

Autoimmune diseases that can cause pain can include (but aren’t limited to): Lyme Disease, Endometriosis, Hashimotos Thyroiditis, Fibromyalgia, Rheumatoid arthritis. Systemic lupus erythematosus (lupus). Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), Multiple sclerosis (MS), Type 1 Diabetes mellitus. Guillain-Barre syndrome, Chronic Inflammatory Demyelinating Polyneuropathy, Psoriasis, Vasculitis, Psoriatic Arthritis, Celiac Disease, Ulcerative Colitis, Sjogren’s Syndrome, Interstitial Cystitis, Crohn’s disease, and Myasthenia gravis.

At the onset of an autoimmune disease symptoms are usually fatigue, achy muscles, swelling and redness, low-grade fever, trouble concentrating, numbness and tingling in the hands and feet, hair loss, and skin rashes.  Depending on the disease this can progress with common symptoms of the disease, as well as symptoms unique to the individual.  Pain is often a main component for sufferers.  

Pain is split into two separate categories: fast acting (acute) and slow acting (chronic) pain. Fast or acute pain occurs very rapidly (0.1 seconds) after a stimulus is applied, feels sharp or pricking, and is not felt in deeper tissues of the body. Slow or chronic pain begins a second or more after a stimulus is applied gradually increasing in intensity over several seconds or minutes. It feels like burning, aching, or throbbing and can occur both superficially and in deeper tissues or organs. Chronic pain usually lasts for more than 2-3 months despite various treatments. 

Chronic pain management goals are to decrease pain and then help the sufferer learn to adapt to the pain that is left. There are no current generic pain management programs because no two people deal with pain in the same way. Some of these therapies include: analgesics, counselling, relaxation and meditation, exercise, physical therapy, acupuncture and massage therapy. Therapeutic massage therapy may reduce chronic pain by blocking the reception of pain and releasing endorphins which reduce the perception of pain in the brain naturally. 

At Ananta Health our massage therapist is trained and experienced in dealing with chronic long lasting pain.  Treatment shouldn't overstimulate the pain, and at the same time must provide relief.  Other therapies offered at Ananta Health that help pain include acupunctureBiomeridian testing to get to the root cause, lifestyle and diet therapies and supplements and herbs.