March is Autoimmune Disease Awareness Month. According to the American Autoimmune Related Diseases Association (AARDA), over 50 million Americans have at least one autoimmune disease and 75% of them are women. There are over 100 autoimmune diseases and they are the number two cause of chronic illness. This video, The Story of AARDA, explains autoimmune diseases
and discusses the Associations role in supporting the autoimmune disease community:
Autoimmune diseases run in families. However, the genetic predisposition to autoimmune diseases may manifest itself with several different autoimmune diseases within a family. For example, in my family, I have Hashimoto's, my daughter also has Hashimoto's, but my son has Psoriasis. My late Uncle had Rheumatoid Arthritis. Two of my first cousins also have Hashimoto's. A person with one autoimmune disease is at risk for another. Besides having Hashimoto's, my daughter also has Microscopic Colitis, which is thought to be an autoimmune inflammatory bowel disease. Having a genetic predisposition isn't enough in itself to cause an autoimmune disease, there usually is some triggering event, such as a virus, medication, or environmental exposure of some kind.
Part of the problem in treating autoimmune diseases is that patients usually are seen by a specialists who treats the specific organ or organs affected. An individual with digestive issues is usually seen by a gastroenterologist, a person with joint pain may be seen by an Orthopedist or a Rheumatologist, etc. There are no Autoimmunologist, a specialist who would be trained and looking for the autoimmune component to a set of symptoms, but there should be. Many patients take years and see many doctors before being diagnosed. Author Meghan O'rourke, in an article in The New Yorker, What's Wrong With Me?, tells her story of trying to find a cause for her various symptoms.
Those of us in the chronic illness community, whether we are affected by autoimmune diseases or not, can all do our part to raise awareness for these disorders. A post on social media, or a conversation with someone regarding autoimmune diseases will help to spread the word. For those affected by autoimmune diseases, this awareness is very much needed.