Delilah Hamlin Reveals She Has Autoimmune Diseases—Here are the Symptoms
Lisa Rinna and Harry Hamlin's daughter Delilah Hamlin is opening up about her struggle with autoimmune and chronic disease. Hamlin, 24, shared an update via her social media where she explained the health issues she has been battling over the past few years. "I haven't really spoken on my health lately & if you're new here you're probably confused but for the past few years I've been struggling with autoimmune/ chronic illness issues that I've been silently battling and overcoming," she wrote. "It's definitely been tough mentally alongside physically. I've kind of kept quiet because I don't want to be put in a 'sick' role. I've faced a lot, overcome a lot, and I know that I'm going through this for a reason and that reason is to share what I've gone through and what I've learned with you."
"Autoimmune disease happens when the body's natural defense system can't tell the difference between your own cells and foreign cells, causing the body to mistakenly attack normal cells," says rheumatologist Ana-Maria Orbai, M.D., M.H.S. "There are more than 80 types of autoimmune diseases that affect a wide range of body parts." Some of the most common autoimmune diseases are rheumatoid arthritis, psoriasis, psoriatic arthritis, lupus, thyroid diseases (like Graves' disease), and Hashimoto's thyroiditis.
"There are different degrees of autoimmune disease," says Dr. Orbai. "The symptoms a person gets likely relate to multiple factors that include genetics, environment and personal health… It's not black or white. There's usually no single test to diagnose autoimmune disease. You have to have certain symptoms combined with specific blood markers and in some cases, even a tissue biopsy. It's not just one factor." Here are the most common signs of autoimmune diseases, according to experts. Read on—and to ensure your health and the health of others, don't miss these Sure Signs You've Already Had COVID.
Joint pain and swelling could be a sign of rheumatoid arthritis, experts say. "Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disease in which the body's immune system attacks the synovium, the lining of the membranes that surround the joints," says rheumatologist Dr. John Davis III, MD. "It causes chronic inflammation, along with joint pain, swelling and stiffness. In some people, rheumatoid arthritis eventually can lead to joint damage and disability. Rheumatoid arthritis typically affects the small joints first, particularly those that connect the fingers to the hands and the toes to the feet. Early-warning signs of rheumatoid arthritis include joint swelling, especially in the knuckles at the base of the fingers, or in the wrists or feet; stiffness of the hands, wrists or feet that occurs in the early morning and improves after activity; and unexplained fatigue, fever or weight loss."
"If you've been healthy and suddenly you feel fatigue or joint stiffness, don't downplay that," says Dr. Orbai. "Telling your doctor helps him or her to look closer at your symptoms and run tests to either identify or rule out autoimmune disease."
Debilitating fatigue is a common symptom of autoimmune disease, and should not be confused with feeling tired. "In this busy, busy world, it's normal to be tired, but the kind of fatigue autoimmune disease patients suffer from is anything but normal," says Virginia T. Ladd, President and Executive Director of the American Autoimmune Disease Related Diseases Association (AARDA). "The overwhelming response AARDA received to this survey shows without a shadow of doubt that fatigue is not a 'fuzzy' symptom, it's real. Yet, for too long, it has been ignored and/or misunderstood by the medical community and the public at large. It's time we bring more research funding to this issue to advance understanding and effective treatments for fatigue."
"Fatigue, especially related to autoimmune diseases like lupus, is often persistent," says Melanie Harrison, MD, MS. "It's very intangible, but you know the difference – especially those with lupus know the difference. It's not the same thing as just having a cold, it's not the same thing as just not getting a good night's sleep. Because we can't do a blood test for it, we can't do an X-ray for it, we don't have specific questions. It's really difficult for us to measure it."
Skin issues such as rash could be signs of autoimmune diseases such as psoriasis or lupus.
"Many physicians and patients are aware of the classic malar (over cheeks and nose) rash seen in systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE or lupus) that can be triggered by exposure to sunlight," says Rachel Kaiser, MD, MPH, FACR, FACR. "Many other rashes, however, can be seen in lupus, including a diffuse circular rash known as subacute cutaneous lupus erythematosus (SCLE) and a scarring rash often seen on the scalp called discoid lupus"
"Most patients with lupus do relatively well," says rheumatologist Howard Smith, MD. "Some of them have day to day rashes and arthritis and things like that, but they lead a relatively normal lifestyle. We have … new medicines have come out in the last several years for the treatment of lupus, and there are really good treatments of lupus for most patients. It's not what it was in the 1950s, the five year survival of lupus was pretty dismal, it was probably around 50%, and now, survival of patients with lupus is well above 95% for five years and ten years. So we have very effective treatments for patients with lupus."
Repeated fevers could be a sign of autoimmune issues. "As the first responder to infection, your innate system usually doesn't overreact," says rheumatologist Adam Brown, MD. "But, with autoinflammation, we think there's a cog left out of the wheel, and something gets triggered when it breaks. We just don't know the trigger… Hopefully, you can treat your condition as needed — if you have flares a few times yearly, you would just take anti-inflammatories during that time. If your disease is more severe, your doctor may be able to offer you other treatment options."
"Autoinflammatory diseases typically begin in childhood, often from birth, and are lifelong conditions," say Dr. Najoua Lalaoui, and John Silke, PhD. "The genetic mutations can be passed from parents to their children, leading to multiple cases of disease in an extended family. Autoinflammatory diseases are different from autoimmune diseases, such as multiple sclerosis, which are caused by defects in the adaptive immune system, a different arm of the immune response. Autoinflammatory diseases cannot be cured, and treatment is usually to relieve symptoms during an attack. Patients are often treated with high doses of corticosteroids, a broad-brush approach to suppress the immune system."
Autoimmune disease can present itself through ongoing gastrointestinal issues, experts say. "Figures suggest around 2% of the U.S. general population, or around one in 50 people, has autoimmune gastritis," says Dr. Michael Ruscio, DC. "Having a pre-existing autoimmune disorder, such as a thyroiditis, vitiligo, Addison's disease, or type 1 diabetes makes you much more prone to the condition."
These diseases may lead to food intolerances, which in turn can make symptoms worse. "Autoimmune gastritis is one of as many as 100 autoimmune conditions that are becoming more common. Rheumatoid arthritis, Hashimoto's thyroiditis and inflammatory bowel disease are other examples. Evidence suggests that increased permeability of the intestine or a "leaky gut"— driven by gut dysbiosis (disruptions to the healthy balance of bacteria in the gut) — may be behind many of these autoimmune conditions. Food intolerances that can occur as a result of gut imbalances can further drive autoimmune conditions, creating something of a vicious circle. With a leaky gut, food particles that aren't fully digested leak into your bloodstream. So, the immune system may view them as potential threats and initiate an inflammatory response, further exacerbating your autoimmune condition."