Nearly 4% of the world’s population is affected by one of more than 80 different autoimmune diseases, the most common of which include type 1 diabetes, multiple sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, Crohn’s disease, psoriasis and scleroderma. Autoimmune diseases represent the third most common cause of chronic illness in the United States. Although many autoimmune diseases are rare, the National Institutes for Health (NIH) estimates that they collectively affect between 5% and 8% percent of the U.S. population. For unknown reasons, the prevalence of autoimmune diseases is increasing.
Because these diseases strike women three times more often than men, the Office of Research on Women’s Health at the NIH has named autoimmunity a major women’s health issue. It is estimated by the American Autoimmune Related Diseases Association (AARDA) that as many as 50 million Americans are living with an autoimmune disease – at a cost of $86 billion a year. According to the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services (HHS), these diseases represent the fourth largest cause of disability among women in the United States and are the eighth leading cause of death for women between the ages of 15 and 64.
A normal immune system protects the body from infection and disease. The presence of an autoimmune disease, however, means that the body’s immune system mistakenly recognizes itself as an invader and attacks the organs, tissues and cells it was meant to protect. Some of these diseases, such as type 1 diabetes, attack specific organs. Others, including lupus, attack multiple organs. Almost any organ system of the body can be affected by autoimmunity.
The medical specialties that may be involved in diagnosing and treating these diseases include neurology, rheumatology, gastroenterology, endocrinology, dermatology and hematology. Because the initial symptoms are often vague and may come and go, diagnosis is often difficult. It is not uncommon for a correct diagnosis to take months or even years to complete.
Autoimmunity tends to run in families, and a single extended family may have members with more than one autoimmune disease. African American, Native American and Hispanic women are more susceptible to specific autoimmune diseases than the general population.
The most common Autoimmune Disorders include:
- Crohn’s Disease
- Diabetes Type 1
- Multiple Scerosis (MS)
- Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA)