According to the American Autoimmune Related Diseases Association (AARDA), 50 million Americans have an autoimmune disease, resulting in costs of around $100 billion every year.
75% of sufferers are women – In fact, autoimmune conditions are a top 10 killer of women under the age of 65, establishing this as a major healthcare issue we just can’t afford to ignore.
Many of the diseases are hereditary, so it’s important to increase awareness of the disorders to help each generation with faster diagnosis and treat the diseases as soon as possible to get them under control.
Autoimmune Diseases: The Facts
There are over 100 autoimmune diseases. These debilitating disorders are triggered when the immune system mistakenly attacks the cells and tissues in the body which they’re meant to be protecting. Each condition may present themselves via their own set of symptoms, but they can affect various parts of the body including joints, blood vessels, skin, and muscles. Symptoms will often be worse during flare-ups, meaning, managing each disorder can be quite unpredictable.
Some of the most common autoimmune diseases you may recognize are:
- Celiac Disease
- Crohn’s Disease
- Graves’ Disease
- Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis
- Multiple Sclerosis (MS)
- Pernicious Anemia (PA)
- Rheumatoid Arthritis
- Type 1 Diabetes
- Ulcerative Colitis
It’s thought that there are close genetic similarities between many of the disorders, meaning it’s not uncommon the see clusters of the diseases in one individual or family. Some of the diseases are more prevalent in certain ethnicities and are usually more common in women.
In a recent survey on the issues affecting autoimmune disease patients, it was revealed that the majority of sufferers do not feel autoimmune diseases are recognized as a major health issue by Government officials. They also expressed concern over underfunding and how changes to affordable health care will affect the management of their conditions. They also expressed apprehension over the power being taken away from their Doctors with risks of insurance companies dictating how the diseases are managed.
AARDA estimates that it takes most autoimmune patients an average of 4.6 years to be correctly diagnosed. Obstacles to diagnosis include the fact that symptoms affect different parts of the body, the involvement of multiple specialities, and intermittent flare-ups which don’t present themselves in the same way at each occurrence.
To help your Doctor make the right diagnosis as quickly as possible:
- Look at the different autoimmune diseases to educate yourself on the various conditions.
- List out all the symptoms you’ve experienced in order of concern – there may be some which occur more frequently than others or affect you more. You can even start a diary to pinpoint further details such as triggers, the time of day flare-ups occur and how long they last for.
- Have your family medical history at hand. Does anyone (close, female relatives in particular) have an existing autoimmune disease?
- Talk to your family about health problems which could be affecting multiple family members.
- Use resources and support groups to find a good Doctor who has diagnosed others. This is easier if you have less major symptoms which may relate to a particular specialist. Get a second opinion if unhappy.
Coping with an Autoimmune Disease
Managing any autoimmune disease can be a challenging journey. Access as much support as you can find to help manage your disease, symptoms and the long-term effects of the condition. Organizations such as the Office on Women’s Health and AARDA provide a wealth of resources for those with autoimmune conditions including information, advice and coping tools for families. They also support and facilitate the National Coalition of Autoimmune Patient Groups who collaborate to educate, research, raise awareness, and give autoimmune patients a voice.
Having an autoimmune disease is not only stressful to live with, but getting a diagnosis and managing the condition takes time, and you’ll face various challenges along the way. Once you’ve established your treatment plan, pop in and see us at Walker’s Drug Store to see how we can help with all your prescription needs. If you’re struggling with mobility, we even offer a straight-to-your-door delivery service on prescriptions.
For more advice about your health care and prescription needs, contact us or pop in and see us at Walker’s Drug Store. We’re happy to help.