Autoimmune Disease

Does psoriasis affect body parts other than the skin?

DEAR DOCTOR K: My doctor thinks my arthritis and heart disease are connected to my psoriasis. Is this possible? I thought psoriasis was a skin condition.

DEAR READER: Psoriasis (pronounced so-RYE-uh-sis) is named for an ancient Greek word meaning an itchy or scaly condition. It is classified as a skin disease, but psoriasis is the result of an immune system abnormality that can cause problems throughout the body.

Do products that claim to boost immunity actually work?

DEAR DOCTOR K: I guess everyone wants a strong immune system. But is there anything to the claims of products that advertise that they boost immunity?

DEAR READER: In a word, no. Our immune system does a remarkable job of protecting us from bacteria, viruses and other microbes. That's good, because they can cause disease, suffering, even death. It seems logical to want to give your immune system a boost.

Can you explain what Sjogren’s sydrome is?

DEAR DOCTOR K: I have Sjogren's syndrome. People tend to dismiss it as a problem with dry eyes, but it's so much more than that. Can you please describe this condition for your readers?

DEAR READER: Sjogren's (pronounced "show grins") syndrome is a lifelong condition. It does tend to be best known for causing dry eyes, but it can cause other problems as well. For example, Sjogren's syndrome can produce dry mouth and affect any of the body's glands, including those that secrete sweat, saliva and oil. About half of people with Sjogren's syndrome also have another connective-tissue disease such as rheumatoid arthritis or lupus. Named after Swedish eye doctor Dr. Henrik Sjogren, this syndrome affects people of all ages and races. However, 90 percent of all cases involve women, most commonly between the ages of 45 and 55.

How can you combat MS fatigue?

DEAR DOCTOR K: I have multiple sclerosis. For me, the most debilitating symptom is fatigue. What can I do to feel more energized?

DEAR READER: Multiple sclerosis (MS) is an illness that affects the brain and spinal cord. Normally, an insulating cover called myelin surrounds nerve cells and helps transmit nerve signals. MS is an autoimmune disease in which the immune system attacks the brain and spinal cord. This causes the myelin sheath to become inflamed or damaged, which disrupts or slows nerve impulses.

What is happening in my body that causes rheumatoid arthritis pain?

DEAR DOCTOR K: I have rheumatoid arthritis. Can you explain what is happening in my body to cause such uncomfortable symptoms?

DEAR READER: Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is a chronic (long-term) disease. It causes painful and sometimes disabling inflammation of the joints. RA can also affect other tissues in the body, such as the skin, eyes, lungs and blood vessels. RA is an autoimmune disease.

What causes ulcerative colitis?

DEAR DOCTOR K: I've recently been diagnosed with ulcerative colitis. What causes it, and how is it treated?

DEAR READER: Ulcerative colitis (UC) is an inflammatory disease of the colon. (The colon is also called the large intestine.) UC can cause debilitating abdominal pain and diarrhea, and it substantially increases your risk of colon cancer.

What is the latest treatment for chronic fatigue syndrome?

DEAR DOCTOR K:I have CFS. What is the latest information about the condition, particularly treatments?

DEAR READER: For readers who are not familiar with the condition, CFS stands for chronic fatigue syndrome. Fatigue is a universal human experience. In our increasingly pressured and fast-paced lives, many people feel tired a lot of the time. In fact, fatigue is one of the most common reasons people visit their doctor. Yet very few people with fatigue are suffering from CFS.

I read that JFK had Addison’s disease — What is that?

DEAR DOCTOR K: I watched a documentary about President Kennedy around the 50th anniversary of his death last year. The program mentioned that he had something called Addison's disease. What is that?

DEAR READER: Addison's disease is a rare condition in which the adrenal glands do not function properly. The thumb-sized adrenal glands sit on top of the kidneys. When working properly, they produce several hormones. But with Addison's disease, the adrenal glands do not make enough hormones.

Can you tell me about my treatment options for relapsing remitting multiple sclerosis?

DEAR DOCTOR K: I was recently diagnosed with relapsing remitting multiple sclerosis. Can you tell me about my treatment options?

DEAR READER: Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a disabling illness that affects the brain and spinal cord and worsens over time. MS damages nerve cells and a substance that is wrapped around the nerve cells, called myelin. A nerve cell functions like a copper wire -- it transmits electrical signals. Myelin is like the insulation surrounding a wire. It helps the electrical signal get transmitted down the nerve cell. When myelin is damaged, that transmission is interrupted.

I was recently diagnosed with lupus — what is this and what is the treatment?

DEAR DOCTOR K: I saw my doctor for a rash on my face. After further tests, she diagnosed me with lupus. What is this? What is the treatment?

DEAR READER: Lupus is an autoimmune disease. Your body's immune system mistakenly attacks your body's own tissues rather than protecting them from outside invaders. Immune proteins called autoantibodies attack many different parts of the body.