Autoimmune Disease: Why is it so hard to diagnose?

It is a familiar story for many of my clients: you are presenting with a broad constellation of symptoms: occasional joint pain; fatigue; struggling to concentrate; digestive issues, headaches; anxiety or maybe inflammatory skin conditions like eczema.

You contact your primary health care doctor who may run some tests that then come back normal. You are then dismissed as either suffering from stress, IBS or fibromyalgia. This can go on for 5-10 years seeing numerous professionals, but unable to receive an actual diagnosis until you start feeling like maybe it is all in your head. You start worrying that people may think you are a hypochondriac. You accept that maybe this is just your new normal. Then eventually you have something visible for the doctors to assess. A rash on your face (lupus); swollen joints (rheumatoid arthritis); a butterfly rash on your chest (Hashimoto’s thyroiditis); a bald patch (areata alopecia); blood in your stool (IBD); small intestine tissue destruction (celiac); lesions on the brain or spinal column (MS). The tests now start coming back positive for an autoimmune condition and you finally have a diagnosis that you can treat.


Autoimmune disease is on the rise. Currently, 1 in 10 people have received a diagnosis but it is estimated that up to 1 in 5 is actually on the pathway to developing one. So what is it exactly? Simply put it is when your immune system attacks your own tissue rather than only foreign bodies. The most common examples and tissues affected are:

  • MS- the myelin sheath protecting your nerves
  • Rheumatoid Arthritis – the synovial joint capsule
  • Hashimotos/Graves – the thyroid gland
  • Celiac – the lining of your small intestine
  • Crohn’s/Ulcerative colitis – the lining of your small and large intestine
  • Psoriasis – the skin cells
  • Sjogrens – the mucous membranes such as eyes and mouth

These are some of the most common forms but there are over 100 autoimmune conditions and they are all connected by the common factors of a chronically alert immune system and widespread inflammation within the body.

So why is it so hard to get a diagnosis?

The problem with conventional healthcare, and its treatment of autoimmune disease, is that you are classed either as healthy or you have an autoimmune disease. However, it is important to realize that autoimmune disease does not occur overnight. You don’t wake up one morning and suddenly you have MS or Rheumatoid Arthritis. There are stages to the progression of this disease:

STAGE 1: Silent autoimmunity. You have antibodies to certain tissue types and some inflammation but you do not have any symptoms

Stage 2: Reactive autoimmunity. This is where you have antibodies to tissue, significant inflammation and you are displaying no specific symptoms such as fatigue, joint pain, brain fog. This stage can last 5-10 years

Stage 3: Autoimmune disease. There is now tissue destruction that can be measured by MRI or ultrasound, inflammation is high and you finally receive a diagnosis.

Once you have a diagnosis you will be given medication to control the symptoms but that does not address the root cause of the inflammation that triggered the autoimmune condition in the first place. This can lead to the development of further autoimmune disease and often patients will have 3 or 4 additional diagnoses in future.

At what stage can a Nutritional Therapist help?

The answer is at all stages.

At Stage 1 we can look at preventative care to prevent you from moving into a symptomatic state. At Stage 2 we can address the underlying causes of autoimmunity, relieving symptoms and even reverse the course of the disease. We can do functional lab testing to see what food intolerances you may have, what autoimmune antibodies are present; address stress and lifestyle issues all with the goal of preventing tissue destruction and disease progression and if a possible move back down to a symptom-free state.

If you’ve already received a diagnosis we can look to help manage disease progression and target achieving remission. We can develop protocols to lessen the impact of flares and look to prevent the development of other autoimmune diseases by controlling the inflammation. By giving you the tools to manage your condition we can put you back in control.

It’s critical to recognise that 25% of autoimmune disease is down to genetics and the other 75% is down to your diet, lifestyle and environment. Thus there is a large area of your disease expression that we can influence.

If you would like to discuss this further please book a free 30-minute discovery call and we can see how we can get you taking back control of your health.

Alasdair Gray

I’m passionate about helping you regain your energy and health through nutrition. We learn to accept lower vitality, poor digestion, compromised immune health and brain fog but we do not need to settle for this. My role is to cut through the confusing and often conflicting information and help you discover the root cause of what is preventing you from enjoying optimal health.