Specialists, along with your main doctor, may be helpful in managing some symptoms of your autoimmune disease. If you see a specialist, make sure you have a supportive main doctor to help you. Often, your family doctor may help you coordinate care if you need to see one or more specialists. Here are some specialists who treat autoimmune diseases:
• Nephrologist. A doctor who treats kidney problems, such as inflamed kidneys caused by lupus. Kidneys are organs that clean the blood and produce urine.
• Rheumatologist. A doctor who treats arthritis and other rheumatic diseases, such as scleroderma and lupus.
• Endocrinologist. A doctor who treats gland and hormone problems, such as diabetes and thyroid disease.
• Neurologist. A doctor who treats nerve problems, such as multiple sclerosis and myasthenia gravis.
• Hematologist. A doctor who treats diseases that affect blood, such as some forms of anemia.
• Gastroenterologist. A doctor who treats problems with the digestive system, such as inflammatory bowel disease.
• Dermatologist. A doctor who treats diseases that affect the skin, hair, and nails, such as psoriasis and lupus.
• Physical therapist. A health care worker who uses proper types of physical activity to help patients with stiffness, weakness, and restricted body movement.
• Occupational therapist. A health care worker who can find ways to make activities of daily living easier for you, despite your pain and other health problems. This could be teaching you new ways of doing things or how to use special devices. Or suggesting changes to make in your home or workplace.
• Speech therapist. A health care worker who can help people with speech problems from illness such as multiple sclerosis.
• Audiologist. A health care worker who can help people with hearing problems, including inner ear damage from autoimmune diseases.
• Vocational therapist. A health care worker who offers job training for people who cannot do their current jobs because of their illness or other health problems. You can find this type of person through both public and private agencies.
• Counselor for emotional support. A health care worker who is specially trained to help you to find ways to cope with your illness. You can work through your feelings of anger, fear, denial, and frustration.
There are many types of medicines used to treat autoimmune diseases. The type of medicine you need depends on which disease you have, how severe it is, and your symptoms. Treatment can do the following:
• Relieve symptoms. Some people can use over-the-counter drugs for mild symptoms, like aspirin and ibuprofen for mild pain. Others with more severe symptoms may need prescription drugs to help relieve symptoms such as pain, swelling, depression, anxiety, sleep problems, fatigue, or rashes. For others, treatment may be as involved as having surgery.
• Replace vital substances the body can no longer make on its own. Some autoimmune diseases, like diabetes and thyroid disease, can affect the body’s ability to make substances it needs to function. With diabetes, insulin injections are needed to regulate blood sugar. Thyroid hormone replacement restores thyroid hormone levels in people with underactive thyroid.
• Suppress the immune system. Some drugs can suppress immune system activity. These drugs can help control the disease process and preserve organ function. For instance, these drugs are used to control inflammation in affected kidneys in people with lupus to keep the kidneys working. Medicines used to suppress inflammation include chemotherapy given at lower doses than for cancer treatment and drugs used in patients who have had an organ transplant to protect against rejection. A class of drugs called anti-TNF medications blocks inflammation in some forms of autoimmune arthritis and psoriasis.
New treatments for autoimmune diseases are being studied all the time.
Many people try some form of complimentary and alternative medicine (CAM) at some point in their lives. Some examples of CAM are herbal products, chiropractic, acupuncture, and hypnosis. If you have an autoimmune disease, you might wonder if CAM therapies can help some of your symptoms. This is hard to know. Studies on CAM therapies are limited. Also, some CAM products can cause health problems or interfere with how the medicines you might need work. If you want to try a CAM treatment, be sure to discuss it with your doctor. Your doctor can tell you about the possible benefits and risks of trying CAM.