Autoimmune Disease Awareness Month

This isn’t the typical post for me. But March is National Autoimmune Diseases Awareness Month, and it is definitely a topic that needs awareness.  I knew almost nothing before being diagnosed myself. With over 50 million people affected by this disease, and millions more likely undiagnosed, autoimmune disease is becoming a health crisis. Early diagnosis can make a significant difference in one’s ability to fight the disease with minimal damage to the body.

The problem with bringing awareness is that, although there are over 100 autoimmune diseases, they are most often looked at as individual diseases, including Hashimoto’s, diabetes, multiple sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis, celiac, and Crohn’s. But these diseases all have a common factor: the immune system is attacking a part of the body. The name of the disease depends on what part of the body is being attacked. For example, Hashimoto’s and Grave’s disease attack the thyroid, rheumatoid arthritis attacks joints, lupus attacks organ systems, Crohn’s attacks the digestive tract.

Autoimmune diseases target women 75% more often than men, and combined, autoimmune diseases are one of the top ten killers of women under the age of 65. According to American Autoimmune Related Diseases Association (AARDA), autoimmune diseases are on the rise. The reasons for that are not known, but as people become more aware of their own risk factors, they can seek a diagnosis and begin a treatment regimen as soon as symptoms occur. 

Some symptoms of autoimmune disease include joint pain, fatigue, rash, stomach issues, and a general feeling of unwellness. These conditions are present in other diseases as well, making it hard to diagnose autoimmunity, especially if it is one of the rarer forms. It is also likely a genetic factor exists, so if there is a family member who has had an autoimmune disease that is good to know and mention to a doctor.

Inflammation is at the root of all these diseases, so asking your doctor to run blood tests that check for signs of inflammation might be helpful. Since these diseases most often affect women, and it is easy to attribute fatigue to working and raising children, women are sent home with the “understanding” that their fatigue is normal. The kind of fatigue associated with autoimmune disease is anything but normal.

It is estimated that people with autoimmune disease will see up to four doctors before a diagnosis. It is important that people are aware so they can be their own advocate and understand risk factors and treatment options. These diseases can be game changers in a person’s life. There is often much pain and an inability to do business as usual. A diagnosis helps that person come to terms with what is going on in the body and get treatment.

Autoimmune disease has definitely affected my life, and I have more to say about that, but for right now awareness is key. Disability and organ damage are often a part of the disease, so early diagnosis and treatment can help people live longer and more normal lives. It is possible to be stronger than autoimmune disease…the first step is knowing what we are fighting!

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