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Monday, November 24, 2008

The Enemy is My "Self"

When I was first diagnosed with Oral Lichen Planus, I didn't understand the part it would play in my life. That was about a dozen years ago. All I had was some white lacy striations on the inside of my cheek. The dentist had noticed it and asked me if I knew it was there. I didn't. He suggested I have my dermatologist look at it. I already had lesions on my arms I had seen her about. I don't think she ever really explained to me that OLP was an auto immune disorder. She ordered prescription and sent me on my way. It was for a tube of triamcinolone, also known as Kenalog. I put it on my inner cheek for a short while, the white striations disappeared and I never looked inside my mouth again to see if it ever came back. It probably did return, but I never had any pain with it, so unless I would have purposely looked, I didn't know.

Step forward in time to when it spread to my tongue. That same dermatologist was taking a pregnancy break from her practice and I was turned over to her partner. I don't believe I ever really understood the relationship that what was going on in my mouth was an auto immune condition. Even though I have gone through several years of flare ups, and worsening of my condition, it hasn't sunk in until recently that my "little problem" was not at all like a viral mouth sore. It' more serious than that. It wasn't until I went up to the University doctors that anyone told me it was incurable.

Lately, I have been reading up on autoimmune disorders, and this is a part of what I understand about them:

An autoimmune disorder is a disease caused by the body producing an incorrect immune response against its own tissues. The immune system loses it's ability to recognize one or more of the body’s normal elements as it's own “self” thus creating autoantibodies, which attack the body's own cells, tissues, and/or organs. This causes inflammation and damage that a normally healthy person would not have.

Healthy antibodies are produced by the body usually in the white blood cells (B cells and T cells) to fight off "foreign invaders" like a flu virus, or a bacterial infection, for example. That's what our immune system is supposed to do. In the case of autoimmune disorders our antibodies get confused as to who the enemy invaders are.

Though there are treatments to keep the disease process controlled, there are no known cures for autoimmune disorders. Very rarely, for unknown reasons, they may disappear on their own. Many people experience flare-ups and temporary remissions in symptoms. Some people will have chronic or a progressive worsening of symptoms. Treatment has to be tailored specifically to the individual, and may change over time as the disease changes or the treatment fails. The goal is to relieve symptoms, minimize tissue damage, and preserve function as best as possible.

I think I still have a lot to learn about my own condition. I have been so focused on the OLP condition and it's symptoms interfering with my health and happiness, I haven't looked seriously at how my whole body is involved in creating this disease.

It is very interesting to me that the treatments recommended for OLP are meant to lower the immunity of the patient, which therefore, may make us more susceptible to other invasive conditions. Colds and flu for example.

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