Signs and symptoms: When the body attacks from within

March 2, 2020 / By Pamela Ewing, CPC

Busy is how most of us would describe our everyday lives. I have a running list of “To Do’s” and it seems like for every task marked off as completed, there are two tasks to take its place.

Sometimes, symptoms are a lot like that list of tasks. A lone symptom is like having one uncompleted task. It is doable, but what if it becomes unmanageable?

What is a symptom?


  • any phenomenon or circumstance accompanying something and serving as evidence of it.

a sign or indication of something.

  • Pathology. a phenomenon that arises from and accompanies a particular disease or disorder and serves as an indication of it.

What happens when that one symptom becomes more intense, or you start experiencing other symptoms? It’s easy to chalk it up to “I’m just tired”; That feeling of tiredness just can’t seem to be marked off the list. The symptoms might come and go and it could be a long time before they pop up again. The time is now to add “make appointment with doctor” to the To Do List.

Commonly reported symptoms are:

  • Fatigue
  • Headaches
  • Skin rash
  • Muscle aches
  • Abdominal pain and digestive issues
  • Swollen glands
  • low-grade fever
  • trouble concentrating
  • numbness and tingling in the hands and feet
  • weight loss
  • hair loss

Use of ICD-10 codes in Chapter 18, Signs and Symptoms and Abnormal Clinical and Laboratory Findings, Not Elsewhere classified (R00-R99); while these codes themselves don’t provide a complete diagnosis, they do offer a clue in helping the physician get to the root cause or the actual diagnosis.

One or more of these symptoms may mean your body is fighting off a virus as common as a cold. Usually, in these instances, our body’s immune system can fight off the attack.

But what happens when your own body mistakes your good cells for foreign cells and attacks your own immune system? Your very own immune system, for an unknown reason, can turn against itself and destroy or damage tissues or cells. The attack can be on a single body site or even multiple sites. Different body systems can be affected by an autoimmune issue.

The National Institutes of Health estimates autoimmune diseases affect more than 23.5 million people in the U.S. There are over 80 different known autoimmune diseases.

Here are a few examples of autoimmune diseases:

  • Rheumatoid arthritis
  • Hashimoto’s autoimmune thyroiditis
  • Celiac disease
  • Graves’ disease
  • Diabetes mellitus, type 1
  • Inflammatory Bowel Diseases
  • Crohn’s
  • Ulcerative Colitis
  • Multiple Sclerosis
  • Lupus
  • Alopecia areata
  • Psoriasis

Since symptoms of an autoimmune disorder can be vague, getting diagnosed is sometimes a difficult and lengthy process. Autoimmune diseases usually cannot be diagnosed with a single test. Physicians use a combination of tests and a review of your symptoms and physical examination to make a diagnosis. Diagnosis can also be difficult because patient signs and symptoms wax and wane and can come from other common conditions. Researchers don’t know exactly what causes autoimmune diseases. Genetics, diet, infections and exposure to chemicals might be involved.

Patients and providers working together to record and track all symptoms can help the physician develop a straightforward treatment plan. When there is no clear diagnosis, documenting and tracking all symptoms will aid in devising a strategy to determine why the body is attacking itself from within.

Pamela Ewing, CPC, CLA, is a coding analyst for 3M Health Information Systems.