By Nancy Churnin
Kathy Krolikowski of Frisco, Texas, suspected something was wrong long before her doctors did.
Every time she said her body ached, she was told she was working too hard or not exercising enough. It took three years before she heard, just as she had suspected, that she had the same autoimmune disorder that had afflicted her mother: rheumatoid arthritis.
Autoimmune disease, which disproportionately strikes women, is easy to miss, says Dr. Neelay Gandhi, a family practitioner on the medical staff at Baylor Regional Medical Center at Plano, Texas, who took over Krolikowski’s care six months ago.
That’s because the general symptoms of fatigue and achiness are common, and autoimmune disease can take many forms, including lupus, thyroid disorders and multiple sclerosis, he says.
In autoimmune disorders, a person’s immune system attacks the healthy tissues it was designed to protect. Getting an early diagnosis can be crucial because the damage the disease causes generally can be stopped or slowed, but not reversed. Krolikowski, 64, says that’s why she advises women to be persistent when something feels wrong and to find a doctor who will be attentive to their concerns.