The Global Autoimmune Institute says that more than 80 autoimmune diseases have been recognized; some are common and well-known, like multiple sclerosis and type 1 diabetes, but others are much rarer and not well-understood by researchers or doctors.
At Rheumatology Solutions, our highly trained providers treat several autoimmune disorders, such as rheumatoid arthritis, Sjogren’s Syndrome, and psoriatic arthritis, among others. We know that having a chronic condition can be scary, but we also understand that having some knowledge about your condition can be helpful. Here, we give a basic overview of autoimmune disorders, as well as some facts of which many people are unaware.
Your immune system
Your body is equipped to handle intruders. Your immune system stands at the ready with soldiers and weapons to repel bacteria, viruses, or other invaders. The soldiers are your cells, and the weapons are inflammation, specific proteins, and antibodies. Usually, it’s quite efficient, which is why most people recover from things like common colds quickly and easily.
When you have an autoimmune disease, though, your army makes a mistake—it’s a little like “friendly fire.” Your weapons are deployed against your own healthy tissues as if they were invaders. One example is rheumatoid arthritis, a condition in which your immune system attacks the linings of your joints.
Although scientists know that there are some risk factors, like a genetic predisposition, for autoimmune disorders, no one knows exactly what causes your immune system to malfunction.
Many more women affected
Anyone can develop an autoimmune disease, but far more women do than men. Women who are of childbearing age have a particularly high risk. Rheumatoid arthritis, psoriasis, lupus, and thyroid diseases are a few of the autoimmune disorders that are much more common among women.
A leading cause of disability and death
More than 23 million Americans have some form of autoimmune disease, and many people have more than one. Autoimmune disease is among the leading causes of death and disability.
Researchers are developing new, effective treatments to slow the progression of many autoimmune diseases. JAK inhibitors, for example, can lower inflammation by interrupting the signals in your body. Biologic therapies are yielding excellent results for some patients.
Lifestyle changes may help
Some people find making some relatively simple lifestyle changes helps them manage their symptoms. For example, making sure you get enough sleep, lowering your stress levels, and getting regular moderate exercise can help. Many patients find it comforting that they can take steps to manage their disease.
Besides problems with whatever tissues your immune system mistakenly targets, you may also find that you have fatigue, a tendency toward depression or anxiety, and other issues. Some things, like fatigue, are likely a direct result of the disease, while others, like depression, may be because of your overall situation.
Knowing you have a greater risk for associated problems can help you develop tools to deal with them.
Talk to your doctor
For most patients, more knowledge about their condition helps to relieve some anxiety as well as give them a better idea of how to manage their symptoms. If you have questions about your condition, schedule an appointment at Rheumatology Solutions. We’re always happy to answer your questions in the context of your specific situation.