Autoimmune Diseases that Affect Your Appearance

Here are some of the most common autoimmune diseases that have physical symptoms and how you can treat them.

Psoriasis Can Cause Red, Scaly Patches

This inflammatory skin condition psoriasis is a result of overactive skin cells. New skin cells form too quickly and your body can’t shed the old ones fast enough. As a result, the skin cells pile up, causing silvery scales or a red itchy rash to appear, most commonly on your knees, elbows, lower back, and scalp.

Psoriasis can be treated with over-the-counter and prescription creams, oral medications, phototherapy, injectable biologic medicines, and lifestyle modifications. “By addressing the inflammation associated with psoriasis, treatments may help relieve patients’ symptoms,” says J. Mark Jackson, MD, a clinical professor of medicine/dermatology at the University of Louisville in Kentucky.

Alopecia Areata Can Cause Large Bald Spots

If you start losing large amounts of hair creating large bald spots, it may be due to alopecia areata, a condition where the immune system attacks the hair follicles in otherwise healthy people. This disease is marked by hair loss that occurs in round patches. You may lose all the hair on your scalp or body.

Alopecia areata is an unpredictable disease, and there is no cure. Hair growth sometimes restarts on its own, or there are treatments to spur regrowth. Your dermatologist can inject your scalp with corticosteroids and prescription creams may also help. Minoxidil, which is now available over the counter, is safe for children and adults to use. While you work with your doctor on treating alopecia, you may want to try changing your hairstyle to cover the alopecia patches or temporarily using a hair piece, suggests Dr. Simzar.

Vitiligo Can Cause Skin to Lighten in Patches

Vitiligo causes your skin to lighten in patches as your body destroys melanocytes, the cells that make pigment. In some cases, your skin may lose all pigment and turn completely white. The condition can affect your hair, the inside of your mouth, and your eyes.

There is no cure for vitiligo, though treatments exist to restore pigment to the skin to even out your skin tone. These include cover-up or foundation, oral and topical medications, and light treatments applied to the affected areas. Light treatments can be time-intensive and costly, and they don’t always work. Surgical treatments, such as skin grafting and tattooing, are another option.

Thyroid Disease Can Cause Dry Skin, Hair Loss, and Weight Gain

An underactive thyroid means you are producing too few thyroid hormones, in turn, your metabolism may slow down. Symptoms of hypothyroidism develop over time and may include dry skin, hair loss, weight gain, fatigue, and a sensation of being cold. Often hypothyroidism is a result of Hashimoto's disease, when the immune system attacks the thyroid.

Hypothyroidism can’t be cured, but it is generally easy to treat. You will have to take a synthetic form of the hormone as a daily pill. Periodic blood tests will help your doctor ensure you are taking the right dose. Once you have the condition under control, your symptoms will start to improve.

Rheumatoid Arthritis Can Make Your Joints Swell

With this autoimmune disorder, your body mistakenly attacks your tissue, particularly your joints. This can make your joints, particularly the smaller ones in the hands and feet, swollen and feel painful.

Over-the-counter pain relievers can help with the symptoms; however, prescription medications, and oral corticosteroid can help ease the inflammation and other swelling. Other drugs known as biologic response modifiers, such as Humira (adalimumab), also reduce the inflammation that causes joint damage by working on the parts of the immune system that triggers it. Physical therapy, exercise, and stress reduction techniques can help joint and muscle strength and function.

Type 1 Diabetes Can Cause Itchy, Dry Skin That's Prone to Infection

Type 1 diabetes is a chronic autoimmune disease in which the immune system attacks and destroys the insulin-producing cells in the pancreas. When you don’t produce enough insulin, glucose builds up in the blood, and your body can’t properly convert food into energy.

Because those with diabetes may have impaired blood flow to the feet, it’s important to take good care of your skin. Itchy, dry skin and bacterial and fungal infections are common. Those with type 1 diabetes are also more likely to have vitiligo. Once you have your condition under control with insulin supplementation, your skin should start to improve.

Lupus Can Cause a Rash Across the Nose and Cheeks

A butterfly-shaped rash across your nose and cheeks is the classic hallmark of lupus, an autoimmune disease that starts when your body attacks your organs and tissues and leads to inflammation. You may also experience lesions on your skin after sun exposure.

Treatments include nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, immunosuppressants, corticosteroids, and antimalarial drugs.

Dermatomyositis Causes a Skin Rash

Dermatomyositis is an inflammatory disease that causes a skin rash on the face and eyelids, as well as on the shoulders, upper chest, and back, and around the knuckles. Other symptoms include muscle weakness, shortness of breath, and trouble swallowing. It is most common in children between ages five and 15 and in adults between ages 40 and 60.

The autoimmune disorder is treated with immunosuppressants and corticosteroids. In children, the symptoms often go away completely. Adults need to be more careful as this may be a sign of another underlying disease and could develop pneumonia or lung failure, which can be fatal in some cases.

Pernicious Anemia Causes Skin to Be Very Pale

Pernicious anemia can be brought on by an autoimmune disorder in which the body attacks cells in the stomach, making it difficult for the intestines to absorb vitamin B12 needed to make red blood cells. Symptoms may include unusually pale skin, a swollen tongue, and bleeding gums, along with fatigue and loss of appetite.

The condition usually responds well to treatment consisting of vitamin B12 shots and oral supplements.

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