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What are the Symptoms of Autoimmune Diseases in the Elderly?

Article by Daniel Westhead Daniel Westhead Sure Safe Alarms

As we age, our immune system weakens and becomes more susceptible to various diseases. One such group of diseases that can affect the elderly are autoimmune diseases. Autoimmune diseases occur when the immune system attacks healthy cells in the body, mistaking them for foreign invaders.

In this blog post, we will cover some of the most common autoimmune diseases that affect the elderly and their symptoms, including joint pain, fatigue, and muscle weakness. We will explore treatment options available to manage inflammation and relieve symptoms to improve quality of life for those affected by autoimmune diseases.

Understanding autoimmune diseases in the elderly

Autoimmune diseases occur when the body's immune system mistakenly attacks healthy cells in different parts of the body. The symptoms of autoimmune diseases may vary widely and can easily be mistaken for other conditions. As individuals grow older, their susceptibility to develop autoimmune diseases increases. Some common autoimmune diseases seen in the elderly include giant cell arteritis, rheumatoid arthritis, and Sjögren’s syndrome.

It is crucial to diagnose autoimmune diseases early and start treatment immediately before they cause irreversible damage to the body. If you suspect that you or your loved one has an autoimmune disease, consult a healthcare professional promptly. They will help identify the underlying issue and provide you with appropriate medical attention to manage the condition effectively.

Common autoimmune diseases in the elderly

Autoimmune diseases are becoming more prevalent in the elderly population. Some of the most common autoimmune diseases affecting the elderly include:

Polymyalgia rheumatica

Polymyalgia rheumatica typically affects those over 65 years old. Symptoms may include muscle pain and stiffness, especially in the shoulders and hips, as well as fatigue and fever. Diagnosis can be confirmed through blood tests, and treatment often involves low doses of corticosteroids. Early detection and treatment are important to prevent complications such as vision loss or inflammation of blood vessels.

Rheumatoid arthritis

Arthritis is a chronic disease that affects the joints and other parts of the body. It is more prevalent among women than men and can develop at any age, but it typically starts between ages 30 and 60. Symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis include joint pain, stiffness, swelling, fatigue, and fever.

If left untreated, it can lead to joint damage and disability. Fortunately, there are various treatment options available for rheumatoid arthritis including medications, physical therapy, and lifestyle changes. With proper management, individuals can continue to lead full lives.

Giant cell arteritis

Giant cell arteritis affects the arteries that supply blood to the head and neck. Symptoms of this condition can include severe headaches, jaw pain, and vision problems. Early diagnosis and treatment are critical to prevent permanent vision loss. Treatment generally involves high-dose steroid medication to reduce inflammation.


Scleroderma is a rare autoimmune disease that can affect the elderly. This disease causes the hardening and tightening of the skin and other connective tissues in addition to affecting internal organs such as the lungs, heart, and digestive system.

Common symptoms of scleroderma include thickening and hardening of the skin, joint pain and stiffness, Raynaud's phenomenon (cold-induced colour changes in fingers and toes), and difficulty swallowing. Unfortunately, there is no known cure for scleroderma, but treatment options are available. They include medications to manage symptoms and physical therapy to improve mobility.

Sjögren’s syndrome

This condition primarily affects the moisture-producing glands in the body, leading to symptoms like dry eyes, dry mouth, and difficulty swallowing. However, it can also affect other parts of the body such as joints, skin, and kidneys. Sjögren’s syndrome is more prevalent in women than men and typically develops in people over the age of 40.


A condition in which the immune system targets and attacks blood vessels, causing inflammation and damage. Symptoms of vasculitis can include fever, fatigue, weight loss, joint pain, and skin rashes. This condition can affect any part of the body, including organs such as the kidneys or lungs.

Diagnosis of vasculitis may involve blood tests, imaging studies, and biopsy of affected tissue. Treatment typically involves medications to suppress the immune system and reduce inflammation. As with all autoimmune diseases, early detection is crucial for effective management and to prevent long-term damage to the body's tissues.

Symptoms of autoimmune diseases in the elderly

Autoimmune diseases can be difficult to diagnose in elderly patients, as the symptoms can be vague and nonspecific. However, some common symptoms of autoimmune diseases in older adults include:


This happens because inflammation and anemia, both commonly associated with autoimmune diseases, can cause fatigue. It is also possible for medications used to treat autoimmune diseases to have fatigue as a side effect.

Joint pain and stiffness

Rheumatoid arthritis and polymyalgia rheumatica are just two examples of autoimmune diseases that can cause these symptoms. Joint pain can vary from mild to severe and may occur in one or multiple joints, such as shoulder and hip pain. Autoimmune diseases also commonly cause stiffness in the morning or after sitting for extended periods.

Muscle weakness

Autoimmune diseases like polymyalgia rheumatica and myositis can cause muscle weakness in different parts of the body, including the arms, legs, neck, and respiratory muscles.

Dry mouth and eyes

These symptoms are associated with autoimmune diseases such as Sjogren's syndrome or rheumatoid arthritis. Inflammation in the salivary and lacrimal glands can reduce the production of tears and saliva, causing discomfort and difficulty in everyday activities.

It's important to note that dry mouth and eyes can also be caused by certain medications or underlying medical conditions. If left untreated, these symptoms can lead to dental problems, eye infections, and difficulty swallowing or speaking.

Factors that increase the risk of autoimmune diseases in the elderly

Genetics play a role as some autoimmune diseases are hereditary. Women are more likely to develop autoimmune diseases than men, indicating that gender also plays a role. Lifestyle factors such as poor diet, lack of exercise, and chronic stress can weaken the immune system and increase the risk of autoimmune disease in the elderly. It's essential to be aware of these risk factors and take preventative measures when possible.

What are the treatment options?

Autoimmune diseases can have a severe impact on the health of the elderly. There are several treatment options available to manage and slow the progression of autoimmune diseases. Medications are commonly used to reduce inflammation and treat symptoms. Adopting a healthy lifestyle can also help improve symptoms, including regular exercise, stress management techniques, and a nutritious diet.

Alternative therapies like acupuncture, massage therapy, and herbal remedies may offer relief for some autoimmune disease symptoms. Joining a support group can provide emotional support and valuable information on how to manage the condition. It is important to consult with a healthcare professional who specialises in autoimmune diseases for an accurate diagnosis and appropriate treatment plan. With proper treatment and management, it is possible for elderly individuals with autoimmune diseases to lead a fulfilling life.

Live a fulfilling and independent life with SureSafe alarms

Autoimmune diseases are a growing concern among elderly individuals. It can be challenging to diagnose in the elderly, as signs of autoimmune disease may not always present themselves clearly. If you or a loved one is experiencing any of these mentioned symptoms, be sure to reach out to your healthcare provider for diagnosis and treatment options.

You can also ease your concern with a SureSafe personal alarm. With our personal alarms you can have peace of mind knowing your loved ones have a way of calling for help if needed. Our tracker alarms provide 24/7 support with an SOS button.

If you would like to know more about SureSafe alarms, don’t hesitate to contact a member of our friendly team on 0800 112 3201, use our live chat, or request a call back.

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