KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- There are more than 200 autoimmune diseases, including lupus, multiple sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis and psoriasis -- just to name a few. They affect about 50 million Americans.
Pushing through the symptoms isn't good, and it's not easy. That kind of stress on the body can lead to other serious diseases like cancer and heart disease.
FOX4's Shannon O'Brien suffers from Hashimoto's thyroiditis, and she's been taking FOX4 viewers along on her journey to fight back against the autoimmune disease.
Her doctor, Jane Murray, ran a batter of tests, and O'Brien is sharing the results. From what she found out, she's luck she started dealing with her disease when she did.
The two hours of testing took O'Brien down a long, windy and bumpy road as Murray, a metro doctor specializing in functional medicine, took a look inside her body and inside her disease.
Although O'Brien is on medication, her Hashimoto's thyroiditis is raging.
Murray's tests found that O'Brien's thyroid globulen antibodies, which are supposed to be one or less, were more than a thousand.
"A thousand is the most the lab can measure so you are beyond that," Murray said.
O'Brien's thyroid is under a massive attack by her immune system, which is trying to kill her thyroid. A big reason is O'Brien's main pillar of health: her stomach, which is crumbling from bad bacteria living there.
"Importantly for you, or anyone with an autoimmune disease -- there is a gigantic connection between the gut imbalance and the immune system not getting the right messages," Murray said.
That wasn't a huge surprise, but when Murray looked further under the hood: "I was surprised at how many things were out of whack," she said.
Blood, urine and other tests show O'Brien also has inflammation, metabolic issues, hormone imbalances, adrenal fatigue and nutritional deficiencies, among other things.
"Here comes the biggie: Your vitamin D level should be 50-70. It is 12," Murray said. "That is seriously, seriously low."
A lot of people suffer from vitamin D deficiencies, which cascade to affect many other body functions.
"I had stomach pain, severe fatigue, and I had dry skin. I was pale. I could barely get up out of bed," said Tricia Collins, who suffers from Chron's disease.
Collins has had her own frightening doctor's appointments when her health began to deteriorate her freshman year of college.
"So I actually went to six different specialists, and they all diagnosed me with anorexia nervosa when I was 18," she said. "There was no convincing them otherwise."
As her health continued to deteriorate, Collins lost 30 pounds in two months and was dangerously dehydrated, suffering from malnutrition.
"My parents took me to the ER and demanded that we get some answers and do some other testing," she said. "So it was during a colonoscopy they found, clearly diagnosed me with Chron's disease."
Chron's disease is when the immune system attacks the digestive tract.
"I had it everywhere," Collins said. "I had ulcers that were forming because I had gone for such a long period of time, probably a year, without getting help or knowing what was going on in my body. So everything that I ate was not being digested."
To get her disease under control, Collins took medication for years. Although she said it helped her heal, she did suffer some side effects.
"And I thought there has to be something else I can do," she said.
A Paleo diet -- based on vegetables, nuts, seeds, quality fats and meat -- was her something else.
"Junk food, fast food, processed food out of my diet and I thought, 'Well, if anything, maybe I will lose a few pounds, and I will feel a little bit better.' But what I discovered in that three weeks is that I started to have a ton more energy. I was sleeping better. I wasn't fatigued, and I thought, 'OK, there has to be something to this."
That experiment turned into a lifestyle.
"The longer you do it, the easier it gets, and it is not such a burden," Collins said.
She turned that lifestyle change into a career as a nutrition coach and Pilates teacher. She's now controlling her disease and is completely off medication.
"You can do it," Collins told O'Brien.
O'Brien has already changed her diet to clean eating: no gluten, dairy, sugar, soy or eggs. Murray suggests a regimen of supplements, including probiotics, vitamin C and fish oil, among other things, to fix some of the other problems going on inside O'Brien's body. There's also exercise and mediation to reduce stress, which is one of the key components to disease.
"I think what is going to happen is when you do feel better and these things get straightened out and you have more energy, your life will be just less difficult," Murray said. "Everything you do now, you will do without it being a struggle -- and you probably don`t even know it is a struggle right now. You are just used to it, but you are going to get up and go, 'Hey, I just feel good.'"
O'Brien has been on this journey for just three months and has already experienced some positive changes. She's having blood taken again in a few weeks for a follow-up to see if the changes she's making are helping her body heal.
Until then, you can follow along on FOX4's Facebook group, "Fighting Autoimmune Disease with FOX4." The group has more than 3,000 members who are sharing resources and support.