I recently was told that I have “autoimmune overlap syndrome.” This is exactly what it sounds like. Whereas most people have 1 or 2 autoimmune conditions, I, like many other “spoonies” out there, have been dealt a whole slew of them.
Basically, what this is, is when you have one “primary” condition and a few other accompanying or overlapping conditions that are all autoimmune in nature. It also can mean where you have a couple of primary conditions but then “symptoms” here and there from other autoimmune conditions. (My opinion is that you just have a lot of stuff going on, and they just don’t know what else to tell you! :) )
This “disorder” or “syndrome” is so confusing that there isn’t even one standard definition of what it truly is. According to Wikipedia (not the best source, I know) Overlap Syndrome is: “an autoimmune disease of connective tissue in which the patient presents with symptoms of two or more diseases. As much as 25% of all patients with connective tissue disease show signs of an overlap syndrome. Examples of overlap syndromes include MCTD and scleromyositis, but the exact diagnosis depends from which diseases the patient shows symptoms. In overlap syndromes, features of systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE), systemic sclerosis, polymyositis, dermatomyositis,rheumatoid arthritis (RA) and Sjögren’s syndrome are found often.“
According to a document published by the department of health, “The etiologies of all autoimmune connective tissue diseases are unknown and diagnosis has had to depend on patterns of symptoms and signs. The problem is heightened by the tendency for one disease type to merge with another, resulting in a continuous spectrum of clinical features among the rheumatic diseases, with the traditionally accepted entities such as systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) or systemic sclerosis occupying only part of the continuum with the overlap syndromes lying between. To identify an overlap syndrome it is necessary to identify a constellation of distinctive features which constitute a true syndrome. Historically, this has been achieved in two ways; on the basis of clinical involvement and by the detection of autoantibodies. Raynaud’s phenomenon, sclerodactyly and alveolitis are common features of a number of autoimmune rheumatic diseases and cannot be used on their own to define a syndrome. Other features, such as thickening of the skin proximal to the fingers in scleroderma or the articular erosions in rheumatoid arthritis (RA) are sufficiently disease-specific to suggest that a patient having a combination of both have a true overlap. This may be the basis of the early descriptions of RA/systemic sclerosis overlaps and RA/SLE overlaps or ‘rupus’. Before regarding these as distinctive syndromes it must be remembered that RA is a somewhat common disease and could occur by chance in a patient with systemic sclerosis or SLE. Some studies have highlighted a second consideration; namely that erosive arthritis may occur in SLE and systemic sclerosis, thus suggesting that RA-like features can, in some patients, be a feature of the disease itself.”
As someone who has rheumatoid arthritis, autoimmune iritis, celiac disease, many allergies, a possible form of dermatomyositis, and now possible lupus – maybe drug-induced, maybe the aforementioned, “rupus,” I can attest to the fact that autoimmunity can take over your body.
The key to figuring out overlap syndrome is figuring out how at least ONE of the 100+ autoimmune conditions out there works. If we can figure out one, then, hopefully, a cure – or at least better solutions – for the others will soon come!
How many of you have multiple autoimmune conditions or have been diagnosed with overlap syndrome? We’d love to hear your stories and how you are positively managing your life! Please share by leaving a comment!
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