A January 2023 study by German researchers suggests that your risk of developing an autoimmune disease is increased after catching COVID-19.
The study included over 38 million participants, approximately 640,000 of whom had contracted the COVID-19 virus, and the remainder being the control group. The study examined the likelihood that an individual would develop one of 30 autoimmune diseases after being infected with COVID-19.
The results of the study found that after being diagnosed with COVID, patients were 43% more likely to go on to develop an autoimmune disease. The most common autoimmune diseases that developed post-infection were: Rheumatoid arthritis, Sjogren’s syndrome, Graves’ disease, and Hashimoto’s thyroiditis. Study participants who had contracted COVID-19 were also more likely to develop, but to a lesser extent, one of: psoriasis, type 1 diabetes, ulcerative colitis, multiple sclerosis, celiac disease, alopecia, and vitiligo.
Study participants who already had an autoimmune disease faced a 23% increased risk of developing an additional autoimmune condition after COVID-19 infection, as compared to those who didn’t get the virus.
This German study adds to the body of research being conducted about COVID-19’s lasting impact on health outcomes. ‘Long COVID’, as it’s been called, can result in neurological problems, breathing difficulty, cardiovascular issues, digestive problems, and more. Now, autoimmune disease may be another outcome to add to the ever-growing list of long COVID health issues.
The results from this German research study on the connection between autoimmune disease and COVID-19 infection shouldn’t be a surprise. The risk of developing autoimmunity after a viral infection has been well documented in the past, such as the connection between the Epstein-Barr virus and autoimmune conditions like multiple sclerosis. It’s believed that through a process called molecular mimicry, viruses are able to deflect attacks from the host’s immune system, by confusing immune cells, and causing them to target healthy tissues instead.
COVID-19 patients have anecdotally shared their experiences battling autoimmune conditions after an initial coronavirus infection. Famed singer and musician Christopher Cross, for example, spoke out about his battle with Guillain-Barre syndrome after being infected. Children were also shown to be developing a condition called multisystem inflammatory syndrome (MICS) after getting COVID, which often proved to be worse than the virus itself.
We’re 10 days into the New Year, and I wanted to check in with my fellow Autoimmune Warriors to see how your 2023 resolutions were going.
One of my New Year’s resolutions was to get back into doing yoga. I started doing yoga as a teenager, and then moved into doing more team sports like field hockey or doing other fitness classes like pilates and spinning. But I realized these past few months how much I missed doing yoga. I think it’s great not only as a form of exercise, but to help with stress relief as well. The problem is, I moved to a new neighborhood and wasn’t familiar with the local studios in my new hood.
The great thing about the New Year, is that if you have fitness and health related goals, that there are plenty of gyms, fitness centers, and health products doing promotions around this time to get your business. I ended up finding a local yoga studio on the MindBody app that was doing a promotion for only $10 for your first class.
It’s been ages since I went to a yoga class, and although there are similarities between yoga and pilates, which I had more experience with, it’s still not the same! Doing the class made me realize how important flexibility is in yoga; at one point, we were doing a stretch where everyone ended up in the splits…except me. But I was surprised by how flexible I was given that I hadn’t been to a yoga class in ages.
Other than getting back into yoga, another resolution of mine is to be more proactive about my health. In the busyness of life, it can be easy to slip with your healthcare routine. As an Autoimmune Warrior, you probably spend a lot more time than the average person when it comes to going to doctor’s appointments, ordering and picking up prescriptions, sorting and taking your medications, getting lab work done, preparing healthy meals, and more. It’s basically like having a part-time job, on top of all of the other work that you have to do!
In my case, this means making sure I make those appointments with my various specialists, ensure that I’m getting my lab work done on a quarterly basis, making any follow-up appointments if any abnormalities arise in my labwork, and ensuring that I’m always fully stocked on my meds. It also means ensuring that I get a good night’s sleep (at least 7 hours) and do daily exercise. I’m also putting more effort into making healthier meals, and using more fresh produce from our home garden.
The interesting thing about having an autoimmune disorder is that it’s chronic in nature, meaning that autoimmune symptoms are continuous and never-ending. So it’s not like a weight loss goal, where I can say, “I want to lose 20 pounds” and then I’ve achieved the goal once I’ve lost that amount of weight. In other words, there isn’t an exact ‘outcome’ that we can really strive towards or predict. This makes measuring your goal progress a little trickier.
However, I remind myself that it’s not always about achieving a specific outcome (i.e. lose 20 lbs) but more so about adopting an overall healthier lifestyle. Do you notice that the people with the greatest longevity in the world, who live in the so-called Blue Zones, don’t ever count calories or even own a scale? It’s their daily habits that contribute to their overall healthy lifestyle.
So cheers to 2023, and I hope that your New Year’s resolutions are going well so far and continue to progress as the year goes by. Let me know your goals (health-related or otherwise) in the comments below!
Celine Dion performing during her Las Vegas residency. Image courtesy of CNN.
Decorated Canadian singer-songwriter Celine Dion reveals she was recently diagnosed with a rare neurological autoimmune disorder called Stiff Person Syndrome. The diagnosis has lead her to cancel her summer 2023 shows, as well as re-schedule others to 2024.
According to Yale Medicine, Stiff Person Syndrome is believed to be an autoimmune reaction that occurs when the body’s own immune system attacks and destroys a vital protein called Glutamic Acid Decarboxylase (GAD). This protein is responsible for making a substance called gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), which helps to regulate motor neuron cells, and ensure they’re not over-active.
People with low levels of GABA have neurons that continuously fire, even when they’re not supposed to. This results in debilitating symptoms like violent muscle spasms, muscle stiffening in the torso and limbs, and difficulty with walking and movement. GABA also helps to regulate symptoms of depression and anxiety, so those with Stiff Person Syndrome are at a higher risk for developing these mental health conditions.
The 54-year-old Grammy award-winning artist has said that the condition has had a profound impact on her life, commenting: “Unfortunately, these spasms affect every aspect of my daily life, sometimes causing difficulties when I walk and not allowing me to use my vocal cords to sing the way I’m used to.”
Getting diagnosed with Stiff Person Syndrome can be a challenge, since the symptoms can mimic many other neurological health conditions, like multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease, fibromyalgia, and more. Patients typically undergo a thorough examination, such as blood tests and spinal fluid tests, to find elevated levels of anti-GAD antibodies, in order to get diagnosed.
Being diagnosed was not a straightforward process for Dion herself. “While we’re still learning about this rare condition, we now know this is what’s been causing all of the spasms that I’ve been having,” she said.
Although anyone can develop Stiff Person Syndrome, the National Organization for Rare Disorders reports that adults ages 30 to 60 are most commonly diagnosed with the condition. The condition is considered rare, with only one in a million individuals being diagnosed with SPS among the general population.
There is no cure for Stiff Person Syndrome, but treatments like steroids to control inflammation, plus the use of sedatives and muscle relaxants to control muscle spasms, can help. Sometimes Stiff Person Syndrome patients are also prescribed immunotherapies to help calm an over-active immune system that’s destroying their GAD proteins.
In an emotional video on her Instagram, Dion said, “I’m working hard with my sports medicine therapist every day to build back my strength and my ability to perform again. But I have to admit it’s been a struggle.”
Back in 2019, I wrote a blog post about my favorite autoimmune disease YouTubers. These are YouTube channels that I personally follow as they document life with a chronic illness.
As a follow-up to that blog post, I wanted to share my favorite podcasts on the topic of managing life with a chronic illness. Although I still do watch YouTube videos fairly frequently, I also enjoy listening to podcasts since it’s so convenient to tune into a podcast while I’m working, doing chores, driving etc. without having to watch something visual.
So, without further ado, here’s my list of chronic illness podcasts that I enjoy listening to!
1. The Chronic Illness Therapist
The Chronic Illness Therapist is a podcast run by Destiny Winters, a licensed therapist in the Atlanta, Georgia area. Destiny has several chronic illnesses herself, including Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome (POTS), Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome (EDS), and Mass Cell Activation Syndrome (MCAS). Since she’s both a therapist and a chronic illness patient herself, Destiny understands the impact that managing an illness can have on a patient’s mental health.
As part of her podcast, she delves into a number of challenges that chronic illness patients face, including:
I have found all of these topics to be relevant to my own life, and I think that many readers would find the same. Plus, I highly appreciate her perspective as a therapist and as a patient, because not many people have both the academic and real-life expertise of both of these roles!
2. Sjogren’s Strong
Sjogren’s Strong is a podcast co-hosted by Lupe, a patient living with the autoimmune condition Sjogren’s Syndrome, and her partner Brian. I first learned about this podcast via their blog, after I was first diagnosed with Sjogren’s myself and was looking for information from other patients. The podcast delves into many subjects specific to living with Sjogren’s Syndrome, such as:
Managing common symptoms, like dry eyes, dry mouth, joint pain, fatigue, and brain fog
Sjogren’s medications, treatments, and medical insurance
Living an active lifestyle with a chronic illness
Although the podcast is clearly specific to Sjogren’s, I think it’s valuable for many chronic illness patients, such as those with Rheumatoid Arthritis and Lupus.
3. The Chronic Ills
The Chronic Ills podcast is co-hosted by Alina and Angelica, two Australian women who talk about living with a chronic illness as young adults in their twenties. Some of the topics they discuss in their podcast episodes include:
Navigating relationships and friendships with a chronic illness
The portrayal of disability in the media
Alina and Angelica have had very different experiences as a chronic illness patients; one of them experienced becoming ill gradually, while the other had a sudden onset of their symptoms. What I like is that they show that not all cases are alike, and that every patient’s story is unique.
Those are the top three chronic illness podcasts that I’m listening to at the moment! Do you have any Spotify podcasts that you would recommend? Let us know in the comments below.
Hey all! It’s been a while since I last wrote a blog post. And the reason for that is…after 2.5 years of this pandemic and being fully vaccinated, I finally got COVID-19.
Getting COVID was one of my worst fears during this pandemic. As someone with an autoimmune condition, I wasn’t sure how my body would react to getting the virus. I had read stories, such as this young woman with an autoimmune condition, who had caught COVID and ended up having to get a lung transplant. It’s really scary since some people report that their symptoms are more of a bad flu, while others end up with crippling long COVID symptoms or worse, end up passing away.
It’s been a few weeks since I first tested positive, and I’m on the mend. My main symptoms were a fever, chills, sore throat, dry cough, loss of taste and smell, fatigue, joint pain, muscle soreness and weakness. As you can imagine, it wasn’t a fun recovery!
My only symptom now, a few weeks post-COVID diagnosis, is a lingering dry cough. I have asthma, and although it’s a very mild form of asthma, it definitely flared up when I got COVID.
I wanted to share some of the things that helped me recover from COVID-19 quickly when you have a compromised immune system. Of course, always talk with your doctor before beginning any kind of treatment plan or modifying your health regiment.
1. Anti-viral medication
The first thing that helped me recover from COVID more quickly was getting on anti-viral medication. The medication, called paxlovid, was developed by Pfizer and is composed of two separate medications: nirmatrelvir and ritonavir. The medication is taken orally as six pills swallowed daily – three in the morning, and three at night.
Paxlovid isn’t available to just anyone, however. You have to be at high risk for severe disease if you get COVID-19. As someone with an autoimmune condition and asthma, I definitely fit that category. I was able to get a last-minute telehealth appointment with a family doctor, and he prescribed me paxlovid, as well as some prescription cough medication.
A clinical trial showed that taking paxlovid resulted in an 89% reduction in the risk of hospitalization and death. So, if you get COVID and you’re immunocompromised in some way, I would definitely talk to your doctor to see if you can get a prescription for paxlovid or another anti-viral medication to help you recover faster.
2. Heating/Cooling Pad
Another item that really helped me recover from COVID was a lavender heating and cooling pad. I’ve talked about using a lavender heating pad in the past on this blog for general muscle aches and joint pains, but it was definitely helpful in recovering from the virus as well.
For example, when I was running a low-grade fever, I was able to put the pad in the freezer to turn it into a cooling pad, helping me cool down when I was running hot at night. When I had bad muscle aches and joint pains, I would heat up the pad in the microwave and within a minute, I was able to get some relief.
There are many inexpensive heating pads that you can find online – for example, I found this lavender heating pad from Amazon for only $12.99. You can obviously get an unscented version if you prefer, but I do enjoy the floral aroma.
As someone with Sjogren’s syndrome, having a humidifier is always a good bet, since it makes the air feel less dry and helps moisturize your immediate environment. That being said, it also helped me to feel more comfortable when sick with the virus, since COVID gave me a bad dry cough as well, not to mention I had a flare up in many of my Sjogren’s syndrome symptoms, like eye, mouth, and skin dryness.
The humidifier I use is from the brand Crane, but you can find various humidifiers online in different styles and sizes that will fit your space best.
4. Throat Spray
If you’re like me and you experience a bad sore throat and cough when you’re sick with COVID, then I’d recommend looking into an over-the-counter throat spray to help relieve some of the soreness and discomfort. You can get throat sprays with a numbing agent, like phenol or lidocaine, at most major pharmacies. I ended up picking up this cherry-flavored throat spray from CVS, and it definitely helped me get through some of my worse days.
If you’re looking for more of a natural throat spray, you can try an echinacea throat spray such as this one on Amazon for less than $12. Echinacea is a natural compound derived from perennial flowers, and has been used among Native American populations for its healing properties. That being said, echinacea is believed to work by boosting one’s immune system (like Vitamin C), so if you have an autoimmune condition, just be sure to get the go-ahead from your healthcare provider before taking any herb or medication that could increase immune activity.
Those are the items that helped me the most to recover more quickly from COVID-19. Are you someone with an autoimmune disease or other chronic illness who caught the virus? If so, what helped you to recover? Let us know in the comments below!
Although I don’t have type 1 diabetes myself, I started reading the book because I work for a continuous glucose monitoring company, which produces medical devices for those with diabetes to help them monitor their glucose levels. Reading about diabetes has given me some insight on what it’s like to live with this challenging chronic illness.
As I was reading Dr. Heyman’s book, I realized that there are a lot of similarities between living with T1D and other autoimmune conditions, like Sjogren’s Syndrome and Hidradenitis Suppurativa, which I live with. Being diagnosed with any kind of chronic health condition can be overwhelming, especially at first. You may think, ‘What did I do to deserve this?’ or other unhelpful thoughts. Even after the initial shock of your diagnosis wears off, there is the ongoing challenge of having to live your ‘new normal’ of life with a disease. It can also impact your ability to do the work and activities that you love.
Dr. Heyman says that the first step to living well with diabetes is to first acknowledge that IT SUCKS. This may seem counterintuitive…after all, if you’re struggling with living with an illness, thinking about how much it sucks would only make things worse, right? But Dr. Heyman says that oftentimes, those with T1D try to ignore their disease, or to think positive thoughts only – this just doesn’t work. You can’t ignore your health problems as if that’ll make them going away. And trying to force yourself to only think positively is basically the definition of toxic positivity.
As Dr. Heyman explains, the best way to live well with diabetes is to acknowledge that although it sucks, you can handle it. Here is a brief excerpt from the boook:
You can handle T1D because you have T1D. I know this sounds like circular logic, but it isn’t. Diabetes is demanding. It requires a lot from you. And you are doing it. You may not be perfect, and it may not feel like you’re doing a great job at handling it. Feeling overwhelmed, and burned out are not signs that you can’t handle T1D. The fact that you’re still living your life and want to keep improving is strong evidence that you can handle the challenging parts of diabetes because that is exactly what you’ve been doing since being diagnosed.
I have never met anyone with T1D who isn’t stronger in some way because of diabetes. You know that managing this condition day in and day out means always being on your toes. You have to make important decisions about your health, pivot your strategy regularly, and keep going, no matter what. You are already doing this.
Sometimes it may feel like you’re not doing a perfect job, and of course, there is always room for improvement. But the reality is T1D has made you stronger. You have to be resilient to survive with diabetes. The fact that you live with T1D proves you are strong. I hope you see it too.
I found this passage to be pretty relatable as someone managing multiple chronic illnesses. You may sometimes feel overburdened by your disease, but at the same time, you are made stronger by the challenges it has put you through. Maybe you’ve also become more conscientious of your health than before you were diagnosed, or it’s led you to re-prioritize your life to make space for only the things that you truly love and care about. Seeing it through this perspective doesn’t mean ignoring how hard it is to live with a disease. Instead, it’s about acknowledging how strong YOU have become in the process of managing life with a disease.
Let us know in the comments below…how has living life with a chronic illness made you stronger or more resilient?
The That 70’s Show alum said that he was diagnosed with vasculitis, an autoimmune disease that causes the body’s immune system to attack its own blood vessels, leading them to swell and narrow. According to the John Hopkin’s Vasculitis Center, the symptoms of vasculitis vary greatly, depending on which blood vessels have been impacted and the inflammatory process involved. Some of the common symptoms of vasculitis include headaches, joint pain, fever, rashes, fatigue, weight loss, rapid pulse, cough, and frequent infections. However, the disease can also cause even more severe symptoms, like kidney and lung problems, stroke, aneurysms, gangrene, deafness, and blindness.
Kutcher said in a 2022 interview that vasculitis affected his vision, hearing, and sense of balance, showing that he had a more severe form of the disease. He commented, “You don’t really appreciate it until it’s gone, until you go, ‘I don’t know if I’m ever gonna be able to see again, I don’t know if I’m gonna be able to hear again, I don’t know if I’m going to be able to walk again.’”
According to Kutcher, it took him over a year to recover from his vasculitis flare-up. The actor acknowledged that while his vasculitis diagnosis put him on a “terrifying journey” he knows that he’s “lucky to be alive”.
Unfortunately, there is no known cure for vasculitis, and the exact cause of what leads the immune system to attack one’s blood vessels is unclear. However, treatments are available to help ease the symptoms, including steroids like Prednisone, chemotherapy drugs like Methotrexate, and immunosuppressants like Cytoxan. It’s unclear what exact treatment Kutcher received after his vasculitis diagnosis.
Prominent neurologist awarded grant to research Alzheimer’s as an autoimmune disease
Alzheimer’s is the most common cause of dementia; according to the Alzheimer’s Association, Alzheimer’s disease accounts for up to 80% of dementia cases.
Although little is still known about this disease, which causes significant loss of memory and other cognitive abilities, the most well-accepted hypothesis is that Alzheimer’s is caused by the build up of a protein called beta amyloid. When too much beta amyloid is accumulated in the brain, toxic clumps of the protein, called plaques, can form. These plaques are believed to be the culprit for Alzheimer’s; as a result, recent clinical trials have aimed to find a way to target and reduce the amount of plaques in the brain.
However, a prominent neurologist and medical researcher from Toronto, Ontario, Canada has put forth a new hypothesis on the development of Alzheimer’s. Dr. Donald Weaver theorizes that beta amyloid is actually a normal part of the brain’s innate immune system, and is there to kill bacteria and serve as a messenger protein. When the body’s immune response is triggered by an infection, trauma, or exposure to noxious substances, brain cells are triggered to release beta amyloid.
The problem arises, however, when beta amyloid mistakes brain cells for bacteria, and begins to kill these cells instead. This leads to fragments being created in the brain, which go on to trigger the continued release of beta amyloid. The result is a self-perpetuating cycle of releasing beta amyloid and killing more brain cells, resulting in a chronic disease.
Dr. Weaver’s theory on Alzheimer’s as an an autoimmune disease has garnered the attention of the medical community. He has been awarded the silver Oskar Fischer Prize, a grant worth US$400,000 from the University of Texas at San Antonio, to pursue research related to his theory.
Dr. Weaver believes that by exploiting the body’s natural way of controlling the immune system, Alzheimer’s symptoms can be reduced, and the disease could even be prevented. He commented, “If we accept the fact that Alzheimer’s disease is an immune-based disease that has certain triggers, then I think that we need to go back and revisit the risk factors.” Examples of risk factors include air pollution, head trauma, and genetic susceptibility.
Ultimately, Dr. Weaver’s research represents hope for a new way of tackling Alzheimer’s disease. Even more exciting is that Dr. Weaver’s research may have applicability beyond Alzheimer’s to other neurological conditions as well, such as Parkinson’s, Multiple Sclerosis (MS), and Encephalitis.
Jenny Hsieh, director of the University of Texas at San Antonio’s Brain Consortium, believes it’s important to provide researchers the opportunity to pursue ideas that are outside the box. “We just need people to be able to work on different ideas…because the bottom line is all of the current approaches to Alzheimer’s disease [are] not working.”
In 2007, Maria Alejandra Hernandez was living her best life in New York City, working her dream job as an actress. However, she started to feel unwell, and generally tired and run down. She had a kidney biopsy done, but it didn’t lead to any answers. She recovered from the mystery illness, and went on to live her life.
Four years later at age 21, her health problems resurged with a vengeance.
“It started with a pain in my finger, I remember,” Hernandez explains. “I thought I probably bumped it or I’m just stressed out. It’s probably going to go away.”
However, the pain didn’t go away, and in fact continued to spread to her shoulders.
“The pain was so excruciating, I couldn’t even lift my hands,” she says. She was hospitalized for a month, while doctors performed a myriad of tests in an effort to diagnose the cause of her sudden pains.
She was eventually diagnosed with systemic lupus erythematosus. The autoimmune disease was causing her body’s own immune system to attack her joints, resulting in the unbearable pain in her fingers and shoulders. Shortly after, she started getting rashes on her face. Butterfly rash, which is a skin rash in the shape of a butterfly that appears across the nose and cheeks of lupus patients, is a hallmark symptom of the disease.
Hernandez admits that she knew nothing about lupus prior to being diagnosed. She explains, “I thought I could tell the doctor, okay, give me the medicine so I can just get better. Well, it doesn’t work that way!”
She recounts with emotion finding out that lupus is a life-long, chronic condition: “I remember one of the doctors telling to me that there was no cure; I felt like my life ended right there.”
While 90% of lupus patients are women, the symptoms can be completely different from person to person. Hernandez says that in addition to joint pain, fatigue, and skin rashes, she also experienced weight gain, hair loss, and kidney problems. At that point, she thought that her career as an actress would have to come to an end.
Lupus put a strain not just on Hernandez’ career, but on her relationship as well. At one point, the young woman told her husband that she likely wouldn’t be able to have children, and that he should find a new relationship to fulfill his dream of having kids.
“He said, ‘No way in hell!'” Hernandez laughs. Her husband stood by her side throughout her aggressive medical treatment. She now manages her symptoms with a combination of daily prescription medications and a healthy diet. Staying positive is also an important part of maintaining her mental health.
Hernandez said that her blood tests have shown promising results that her lupus is under control. As a result, she revealed that her and her husband are looking forward to starting a family of their own.
“For Warriors like myself, [becoming a parent] might take a little longer, but I’m not losing hope,” she declared. “If I hadn’t gone what I went through, I wouldn’t be here now, raising awareness [for lupus],” she said.
“Now, lupus doesn’t control me. But I’m using it to help [others].”
Researchers have long pondered whether there is a genetic cause of systemic lupus erythematosus, known as lupus for short. Lupus is a systemic autoimmune disease that occurs when the body’s immune system attacks its own vital organs and tissues, resulting in widespread inflammation and debilitating symptoms. Now, researchers have discovered a genetic mutation in a young patient, whose DNA may be the key to finding a cure for the disease that affects at least 5 million people worldwide.
One Girl’s Case My Help Solve the Mystery
Gabriella Piqueras, a 16-year-old teen from Madrid, is the center of a new research study published in Nature magazine. Ever since Piqueras was five years old, she has suffered from debilitating symptoms, like constant bruising and bleeding beneath her skin. She was admitted to a hospital in Madrid for treatment, where she was diagnosed with lupus as the cause behind her painful symptoms.
Piqueras’ DNA was recently studied by Carola Garcia de Vinuesa, a leading immunologist at the Francis Crick Institute in London. In the study, it was discovered that she had a genetic mutation on her DNA that activates the TLR7 receptor in her cell’s membranes. This receptor activation normally causes immune cells to recognize and attack threatening viruses, but in Piqueras’ case, it causes her immune cells to attack her organs and tissues instead.
Discovering a Genetic Cause for Lupus
After discovering the genetic mutation in the patient’s cells, researchers modified the DNA of mice in a lab at Australian National University in Canberra. As a result, the mice went on to develop lupus. Lead researcher Garcia de Vinuesa commented on the study, saying: “It was already known that this receptor appeared to be activated in lupus patients, but no one knew if it was a cause, a consequence or a side effect of inflammation. Now we can show that it is the cause.”
The discovery of the TLR7 receptor as a genetic cause of lupus is significant. Not only does it show that genetics can lead to development of the disease, it could also explain why 90% of lupus patients are women. Garcia de Vinuesa explains that the instructions for making TLR7 are located on the X chromosome on our DNA. Since women have two X chromosomes on their DNA, and men only have one, women are significantly more likely to develop the disease.
Environmental Factors May Also Play a Role
Maria Galindo, a Madrid-based rheumatologist, states that although the study’s findings are important, it’s also important to consider the environmental causes of lupus as well. She explains that there is “a base of genetic susceptibility that, in the presence of external stimuli, triggers an exaggerated autoimmune reaction.” She concludes, “Everything indicates that the TLR7 pathway is very important, but it is not the only one.”
While more research is required to understand both the environmental and genetic factors behind lupus, this Spanish study sheds light on the chronic autoimmune disease that is often referred to as a ‘cruel mystery’. With more scientific research into lupus, more treatments can be developed to help the 5+ million people living with the disease worldwide. And for patients like Gabriella Piqueras, that could make all the difference.
The Grammy award-winning singer-songwriter, who was recently hospitalized for anaphylaxis — a severe allergic reaction — said that her hospitalization and subsequent doctor’s appointments led to her being diagnosed with several chronic health conditions, including Sjögren’s Syndrome, Ehlers-Danlos syndrome, mast cell activation syndrome, and Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome (POTS).
“My health has changed a lot since I got pregnant and gave birth,” the 27-year-old mom-of-one explained. “I started getting really, really, really sick — I’ve been kind of sick most of my adult life, but it started getting really bad [after pregnancy],” she said.
Sjögren’s Syndrome is an autoimmune disease in which the immune system attacks the body’s own exocrine (or moisture-producing) glands. Ehlers-Danlos syndrome is a group of connective tissue disorders that impact the skin, bones, blood vessels, organs, and other tissues. Mast cell activation syndrome occurs when the body releases too much of certain types of chemicals, such as histamines, in the body, resulting in repeated allergic or anaphylaxis episodes. POTS is a blood circulation disorder of the autonomic nervous system.
Halsey has previously shared details about her health struggles, including her battle with endometriosis. Back in 2017, she underwent multiple surgeries to help her with the condition.
She commented, “For those of you who have followed this battle of mine or who may suffer with it yourself, you know the extremes to which it can be mentally exhausting and physically painful.”
Halsey says she won’t let her health conditions stop her from living a full life or having a successful career, however. “If you suffer from chronic pain or a debilitating disease, please know that I have found time to live a crazy, wild, rewarding life AND balance my treatment and I hope so much in my heart that you can too,” she said.
If you suffer from autoimmune disease or other auto-inflammatory conditions, then you’re no stranger to inflammation. According to the Cleveland Clinic, inflammation is defined as the process by which your body activates your immune system to fight off bacteria, viruses, and toxins, and to heal damaged tissue. However, if your body sends out inflammatory cells when you’re not sick or injured, you may have chronic inflammation. Excessive chronic inflammation is what underlies many chronic health conditions, from rheumatoid arthritis to systemic lupus erythematosus.
While modern medicine may turn to pharmaceuticals like NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs), steroids, or immunosuppressants, patients are increasingly turning to natural products with anti-inflammatory properties to help them prevent damaging inflammation and reduce existing inflammation. In this blog post, we explore 5 anti-inflammatory foods that can help you fight chronic inflammation.
1. Manuka Honey
Honey has long been used in traditional medicine for its healing properties. But did you know that manuka honey sourced from New Zealand has such powerful anti-inflammatory properties that it was approved for wound treatment by the FDA?
What sets manuka honey apart from other types of honey are the properties methylglyoxal (MG) and dihydroxyacetone (DHA) which give manuka honey its supreme quality and purity. These properties have been shown to have various health benefits, including protecting against gastric ulcers, inhibiting influenza viruses, soothing sore throats, and treating antibiotic-resistant infections.
Manuka honey is known to be expensive, since it’s exported almost exclusively by New Zealand in limited supply. Check the label to ensure your honey is certified manuka honey, and not a blend of honeys from various countries.
Are you surprised by number two on this list? While technically not a ‘food’, coffee beans have polyphenols and other anti-inflammatory properties and bioactive compounds like chlorogenic acids, cafestol, kahweol, and caffeine. These compounds have shown in a few studies to reduce inflammation. A 2015 study found that coffee consumption reduced 10 markers of inflammation among regular coffee drinkers. Those who saw the greatest benefit drank 3-4 cups of coffee per day.
Keep in mind that while coffee has been shown to have anti-inflammatory effects, coffee can mess with your sleep patterns, especially if you drink it late in the day or are caffeine-sensitive. And, since sleep is an important factor in your overall health and wellbeing, it’s something to consider.
The long and short of it is, you can enjoy your cup of Joe (in moderation, that is)!
Turmeric is root vegetable-derived spice with a vibrant, yellow hue. The spice is commonly used in Middle Eastern and South Asian cuisine, and has been used in traditional medicine thanks to curcumin, a bioactive compound with anti-inflammatory benefits.
In a 2006 study of patients with autoimmune ulcerative colitis (UC), patients who took 2 grams of curcumin a day, along with prescription disease-modifying anti-rheumatic drug (DMARD), were more likely to stay in remission than patients who took the prescription medication alone. This suggests that curcumin may help to prolong remission periods for patients with chronic inflammation.
Other research studies on the health benefits of turmeric have shown that curcumin improves memory, lessens pain, fights free radicals, combats depression, helps prevent cancer, and lowers one’s risk of heart disease. That’s a lot of benefits for a spice!
Turmeric and curcumin powder are extremely versatile and can be added to curries, soups, stews, meat marinades, roasted vegetables, rice, eggs, baked goods, smoothies, teas, milk, and more.
One 2014 study found that the group that followed a Mediterranean diet and consumed an extra 50mL per day of extra virgin olive oil (EVOO) significantly decreased their inflammatory markers over the course of 12 months. This is likely because olive oil contains an antioxidant called oleocanthal, which has been recognized as a naturally occurring non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID), similar to manmade ibuprofen.
Researchers Lisa Parkinson and Russell Keast concluded: “It is plausible that low, chronic doses of a naturally occurring NSAID such as oleocanthal may attenuate inflammation over time, and may then contribute to significant reductions in the development of chronic inflammatory disease.”
Green tea has long been enjoyed in Eastern traditions for its earthy flavor since the Tang dynasty in 618-907 AD.
More recently, research has found that drinking green tea has been associated with a reduced risk of heart disease, cancer, Alzheimer’s, obesity, and other serious health conditions. Many of these benefits have been attributed to green tea’s antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, especially epigallocatechin-3-gallate, known as EGCG for short. EGCG inhibits inflammation by reducing pro-inflammatory cytokine production and damage to the fatty acids in your cells.
Plus, green tea makes a great alternative to other anti-inflammatory beverages, such as coffee, that still provides a jolt of caffeine for your morning routine.
Hey y’all – instead of the usual scholarly article, I’m doing a personal blog post about my journey with hidradenitis suppurativa (HS). As I’ve detailed in past blog posts, I’ve been living with this condition for the past 10 years, though I only got officially diagnosed with HS four years ago by my dermatologist.
Since then, I’ve tried a number of different treatments to reduce the symptoms of my Hurley Stage I hidradenitis suppurativa. While many treatments didn’t work, here’s what did (and remember, always consult your doctor before starting a new medication or treatment plan!)
1. Laser Hair Removal
Laser hair removal has been shown to ‘significantly improve’ HS symptoms in patients who participated in a 2011 study where they were treated with intense pulsed light twice a week for four weeks. The belief is that by killing the hair follicle with a laser, this auto-inflammatory condition is less likely to cause boils, abscesses and cysts in follicle-rich areas of the skin, like the underarms and groin.
There are several cons to laser hair removal to consider; the treatments are costly and are rarely covered by health insurance, since laser is not a widely-recognized treatment for HS. It’s also unlikely that someone with Hurley Stage III HS could receive laser treatments, since the laser cannot penetrate scar tissue, and it would be too painful for patients with an advanced stage of the disease.
Despite these drawbacks, I personally have seen a great improvement in my HS symptoms after attending seven sessions every six weeks over the course of one year. I would estimate that I’ve seen an 80% reduction in HS lesions on my skin at around the fourth treatment onwards with the Alexandrite laser (my clinic recommends at least nine treatments to see the best results).
When I was first diagnosed with HS, I was having issues with recurrent, painful boils and cysts in the groin and underarm areas – classic hidradenitis symptoms. Sometimes these lesions would become infected and rupture (TMI, I know!) However, my dermatologist wasn’t a fan of antibiotics, so she didn’t prescribe them to me.
I ended up moving to a different city, and from there, started going to a new dermatology clinic. At the new clinic, I was put on a 90-day course of 100mg of doxycycline, an antibiotic, which my dermatologist explained would bring down the inflammation levels in my skin, and be more preventative in nature compared to the treatments that I had received in the past. After the first 90 days, I noticed a dramatic improvement in my HS, both in terms of the number and severity of the boils I had. Since HS is an auto-inflammatory disease, it made sense that antibiotics worked, but since very few treatments had worked previously, I was pleasantly surprised!
After those first 90 days, I was then put on a lower dosage (50 mg) of doxycycline, since patients aren’t typically given high dosage antibiotics for long-term use. I was worried that my boils would come back with the lower dosage antibiotics, but they have not returned to their previous levels as of yet.
3. Steroid Injections
Prior to going the antibiotics and laser hair removal route, I had been given steroid injections by my dermatologist whenever I had a painful and/or large abscess on my skin. The steroid gets injected directly into the boil underneath the skin, which can be pretty painful, but helped to calm down the inflammation in my skin almost immediately.
I used to get golf ball-sized cysts that had to be injected, and after they were injected, they would deflate to more of a grape-sized cyst, and the pressure against my skin felt like it was relieved. While steroid injections may not be a long-term solution, and more of a ‘reactive’ (rather than proactive) treatment, they definitely helped get me through some of my worse hidradenitis suppurativa disease flare-ups.
4. Topical Solutions
I currently use a number of creams and cleansers – all prescribed to me by my dermatologist – to help me keep the areas affected by HS as clean and exfoliated as possible. Firstly, I shower with Hibiclens, which is used by healthcare professionals to ‘scrub in’ at clinics and hospitals, and helps to keep the affected area sanitary. Although it was prescribed to me by my dermatologist, it’s also available over the counter at many pharmacies.
Secondly, I use Clindamycin, also known as benzoyl peroxide, after my shower. This is a topical antibiotic that helps to prevent infections, which is super helpful if you have HS boils that open up, exposing your skin to a potential bacterial infection.
Thirdly, I use a cream with 15% Resorcinol, which, in a 2010 study, has been shown to improve the pain and duration of HS lesions. I get my cream from a compounding pharmacy called ChemistryRX, though I have seen Resorcinol skincare products for sale online (just with less of the active ingredient in it).
Finally, I use Tretinoin, a Vitamin A derivative, which helps to get rid of all those pesky little blackheads that appear after a skin lesion has begun to heal. I know this is a lot of different skincare products for hidradenitis suppurativa, but those of you who have this skin condition will know that you have to fight this disease with everything you’ve got!
5. Zinc Supplements
I take 50mg of zinc supplements daily. While it hasn’t been definitively proven that there is a link between hidradenitis suppurativa and zinc deficiency, some initial studies have shown promise in the treatment of HS with zinc gluconate. A 2012 study in France, for example, showed that when patients with HS lesions were treated with 90mg of zinc gluconate each day over the course of 3 months, they experienced a significant alteration in the balance of inflammatory markers in their body, as compared to samples collected before the zinc treatment. This imbalance in inflammatory markers may be the underlying cause of hidradenitis suppurativa.
Although I’m not 100% sure that zinc supplementation is working to reduce my HS lesions, I decided that I didn’t have much to lose by taking a daily zinc supplement, a mineral which many of us are deficient in anyway. If you don’t want to swallow a pill to get your zinc, some natural sources of zinc include: meat, shellfish, dairy, eggs, legumes, whole grains, nuts and seeds.
That’s it for today’s blog post! What has helped you to improve your hidradenitis suppurativa (HS)? Let us know in the comments below!
If you found this article helpful, don’t forget to like this blog post and subscribe to Autoimmune Warrior for more helpful articles delivered straight to your inbox.
A new study from the University of Bonn in Germany has revealed a link between the consumption of dairy products and multiple sclerosis (MS), reports Science Daily.
The researcher who led the study, Stefanie Kürten, a professor or neuroanatomy at the University Hospital Bonn, is considered to be an expert on MS, an autoimmune disease that often has debilitating and disabling symptoms. Kürten says it was her patients themselves that prompted her theory that there could be a link between the consumption of dairy products and MS symptoms.
“We hear again and again from sufferers that they feel worse when they consume milk, cottage cheese, or yogurt,” Kürten explained. “[So] we injected mice with different proteins from cow’s milk. We wanted to find out if there was a protein that they were responding to with symptoms of disease,” she said.
Her team’s research had some interesting results: when they administered the cow’s milk protein casein to mice, together with an effect enhancer, the mice went on to develop neurological disorders. A microscopic look at the mice’s nerve fibers showed damage to the myelin sheath, which is the insulating layer that gets damaged by the body’s immune response in patients with MS.
Rittika Chunder, a postdoctoral fellow in Professor Kürten’s research team, explains: “We suspected that the reason [for the damage] was a misdirected immune response, similar to that seen in MS patients.” “The body’s defenses actually attack the casein, but in the process they also destroy proteins involved in the formation of myelin.”
So why would one’s body attack the casein, the protein found in milk, to begin with? The researchers theorize that presumably, the multiple sclerosis patients studied developed an allergy to casein at some point in their lives as a result of consuming milk. Then, the immune system mistook a protein called MAG, which is important for myelin production, with casein.
“We compared casein to different molecules that are important for myelin production,” Chunder explained. “In the process, we came across a protein called MAG. It looks markedly similar to casein in some respects – so much so that antibodies to casein were also active against MAG in the lab animals.”
So, if you have MS, should you avoid milk and other dairy products altogether? Not necessarily, say the researchers, as this only affects MS patients who are allergic to cow’s milk casein.
“We are currently developing a self-test with which affected individuals can check whether they carry corresponding antibodies,” said Kürten. “At least this subgroup should refrain from consuming milk, yogurt, or cottage cheese.”
Another multiple sclerosis study out of Harvard University has pointed to the Epstein-Barr virus being the trigger for the demyelinating autoimmune disease. And, the MS Society of Canada has published vitamin D recommendations, due to the link between vitamin D deficiency and MS, demonstrating that there isn’t necessarily one catch-all cause of MS.
Still, Kürten’s research has opened an interesting conversation for further studies related to the link between diet and autoimmune disease – and many leading physicians and scientists believe that there is, in fact, a link. Dr. Terry Wahls, a physician who has MS herself, published a book called The Wahls Protocol about how she used Paleo eating principals to put her MS symptoms into remission.
For all of our readers with multiple sclerosis: what do you think about the new research about the link between dairy and MS? Do you follow a certain diet to control your MS symptoms? Let us know in the comments below!
5-year-old Paige Neale of Maryland has an autoimmune disease so rare, scientists believe that there are only 100 people on the planet who have ever had it.
The disease is called lipopolysaccharide-responsive and beige-like anchor protein deficiency, or LRBA deficiency for short. The autoimmune disease causes Paige’s body to attack her joints and internal organs, like her stomach and lungs. Paige was diagnosed with the rare autoimmune disease when her parents noticed that she was getting sick a lot more often than her fellow peers her age, including suffering from swollen joints and various GI issues.
Commenting on his daughter’s diagnosis, Mike Neale said: “It’s such a tough diagnosis because you don’t know what to expect…what laid ahead for her, and what do we do next?”
According to the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, the disease is caused by a genetic mutation in the LRBA gene. Patients with the condition are highly susceptible to infections, especially of the upper respiratory tract. LRBA deficiency can also cause various symptoms, including poor blood clotting, anemia, weakness, fatigue, joint pain, stiffness, and eye inflammation (uveitis). It can also make patients more susceptible to developing other autoimmune conditions, such as vitiligo, psoriasis, and type 1 diabetes, which cause additional symptoms as well.
For her part, Paige was also diagnosed with the autoimmune condition juvenile rheumatoid arthritis in addition to LRBA deficiency. To keep her alive, Paige receives bi-weekly shots that cost thousands of dollars, but a new procedure is giving Paige’s family hope for the future. Their little girl is to receive a bone marrow transplant in April from her 3-year-old sister, who happens to be a 100% match.
“Right now you look at her, and she looks like a completely healthy five-year-old girl,” said her father Mike. He continued, “We tend to forget how sick she was leading up to that, so we question ourselves: Should we be putting her through this bone marrow transplant that is going to destroy her immune system and make her really sick?”
If the procedure is successful, however, Paige will no longer need to get bi-weekly injections, and she’ll be able to go on to lead a normal life – an end result that her father says is the ultimate goal. Paige enjoys skiing and horseback riding – activities that have given her and her family a sense of normalcy during the COVID-19 pandemic, and throughout her vigorous treatment regimen.
Bob Saget, the beloved Full House actor who recently passed away, battled against a little-known autoimmune disease prior to his passing. The condition was scleroderma, and it was responsible for the passing of his older sister Gay Saget at the young age of 47.
Gay was diagnosed with scleroderma at age 44, a mere three years before her passing. She had suffered from unrelenting symptoms for years before her diagnosis, however, but doctors couldn’t pinpoint the cause. Her brother Bob had commented on his sister’s diagnosis journey, saying: “She had a lot of fatigue…it felt like her skin was on fire. She went to regular medical doctors that said that it could be lupus, it could be mental illness, it could be Epstein-Barr. They named everything except what it was.”
Gay’s frustrating journey to diagnosis is no outlier in the chronic illness community. Many patients with chronic illnesses such as autoimmune diseases go years without a diagnosis, until their symptoms become severe enough to be diagnosed.
Dr. Fred Wigley, a professor of medicine at Johns Hopkins University, has studied scleroderma for the past 45 years. “[Scleroderma] can be a very terrible multi-system disease, but not in every patient,” Dr. Wigley said. With scleroderma, the body over-produces collagen, impairing the functioning of various organs. Common symptoms of the condition include tightening of the skin, finger and toe pain, arthritis, muscle weakness and trouble swallowing. It can also damage internal organs, especially the lungs.
Gay was among approximately 300,000 Americans living with the disease. About 80% of these patients are women, most commonly between the ages of 30 and 50. The disease tends to be more severe in patients of color, for unknown reasons.
Bob said that his sister was treated with steroids, like prednisone and cortisone, but that the drugs failed to relieve her symptoms, and did not get to the root cause of the disease. “She got treatment, but it was just treating her symptoms…She had to move to Los Angeles to live with my parents because she needed so much help,” he had explained.
There are multiple different types of scleroderma, with localized being the most common and more mild type. With localized scleroderma, the internal organs are rarely involved, and it primarily affects the skin. Systemic scleroderma is the less common type, affecting about 30% of patients living with the condition. This is the type that Bob Saget’s sister had, which impacts one’s connective tissues and internal organs.
Since scleroderma was a cause that was very dear to his heart, Bob Saget focused on raising funds for the Scleroderma Research Foundation, which aims to find a cure for this debilitating autoimmune disease. In total, he raised over $25 million for the foundation prior to his passing, leveraging his fame and Hollywood connections to garner donations from big-name celebrities like John Mayer, Rob Williams and Dave Chappelle.
“For me, it’s an homage to [my sister], and somehow telling her that her life had a real purpose,” Saget had said. He continued, “I have a lot to live up to. I feel like, to really do her justice, is to really make huge strides in the next decade or two and to really help these sweet, innocent victims with this disease.”
In light of Bob Saget’s passing, his family members asked friends and fans to remember him by making a donation to charities benefitting patients with scleroderma. To make a donation in Bob Saget’s memory to the Scleroderma Research Foundation, see the official in memory webpage. Donations will be matched up to $1.5 million.
Multiple Sclerosis (MS), a debilitating autoimmune disease, may in fact be caused by a virus, suggests a new study published in Science by Harvard Medical School Researchers.
The researchers tested a cohort of more than 10 million young adults on active duty in the US military between 1993 and 2013. During this 20-year timeframe, 955 individuals were diagnosed with MS over the course of their period of service. The researchers found that the risk of MS increased 32-fold after infection with the Epstein-Barr virus, known as EBV for short.
MS is a chronic inflammatory demyelinating disease of the central nervous system. The chronic inflammation occurs when the immune system mistakenly attacks the protective sheath (myelin) that covers nerve fibers, causing communication problems between your brain and the rest of your body. According to the Mayo Clinic, the disease can eventually cause permanent damage or deterioration of the nerves. Other symptoms include vision problems, slurred speech, fatigue, dizziness, tingling or pain in parts of the body, and bowel, bladder, and sexual dysfunction.
Multiple Sclerosis and the Epstein-Barr Virus
Although the exact cause of multiple sclerosis is unknown, it has long been hypothesized that the demyelination in the brain and spinal course is triggered by a viral infection. This particular study found that serum levels of neurofilament light chain, a biomarker of neuroaxonal degeneration, increased only after EBV seroconversion, suggesting that EBV is a leading cause of MS. However, the risk of MS was not increased after infection with other viruses, such as the cytomegalovirus (CMV); the researchers had also compared samples to CMV positivity as a negative control group, and found that CMV positivity was actually associated with a lower risk of MS.
“The key finding is that MS is a complication of infection with EBV,” said Alberto Ascherio, a professor of epidemiology and nutrition at Harvard’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health. Commenting on the size and longevity of the study, Ascherio said: “There is no comparable population in the world.”
Stanford University researchers believe that molecular mimicry may be the culprit behind why those infected with Epstein-Barr have a higher risk of developing MS. Molecular mimicry occurs when immune cells targeting EBV accidentally attack myelin, due to the molecular similarities between the virus and this tissue. A 2018 study identified EBV-infected B cells in the brains of MS patients, lending support to the molecular mimicry theory.
Multiple Sclerosis: Vitamin D Deficiency and Genetic Factors
It’s unlikely that EBV is the sole reason behind the development of MS, however. The study suggests that EBV seropositivity is necessary to develop MS, but it isn’t sufficient – otherwise, 95% of the world’s population would have MS, since the virus is prevalent worldwide. According to the UK-based Multiple Sclerosis Trust, an estimated 2.5 million people worldwide have multiple sclerosis. So why do only some people develop MS and not others?
Another theory about the development of MS is vitamin D deficiency. Vitamin D, also known as the sunshine vitamin, may be a protective compound against the development of MS; it has been found, for instance, that the distribution of MS around the world is uneven; generally, the prevalence of the disease increases as you travel further north or south from the equator. The parts of Asia, Africa and America that lie on the equator have extremely low levels of MS, while Canada and Scotland have particularly high rates. This suggests that vitamin D, particularly from the sun, is important in preventing MS, possibly due to its anti-inflammatory properties.
Other studies have shown that certain ethnic groups have a markedly lower prevalence of MS, despite living in places where the disease is more common. For example, the Sami or Lapps of northern Scandinavia, the Inuits of Canada and Greenland (Denmark), and the Maoris of New Zealand exhibit very low rates of MS, despite living in some of the northernmost and southernmost climates in the world.
Multiple Sclerosis and Diet
Another theory that has evolved is the relationship between Multiple Sclerosis and one’s diet. As noted above, many northernmost communities do not get sufficient vitamin D from the sun, due to their local climate. However, they make up for this by consuming a vitamin D-rich diet; for example, fish and marine mammals like seal and whale. These foods are also rich in healthy omega-3 fatty acids, which are also known to have anti-inflammatory properties and may help other autoimmune conditions beyond MS, like rheumatoid arthritis, Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, and systemic lupus erythematosus.
Although considered controversial to some, Dr. Terry Wahls, who has multiple sclerosis herself, developed a dietary approach to treating autoimmune conditions with paleo principals, which she calls the Wahls Protocol.
New Ways to Treat MS
Ascherio, for his part, believes that his team’s groundbreaking research on the connection between viruses like Epstein-Barr and MS could pioneer the development of new multiple sclerosis treatments. For example, immunosuppressive therapies that deplete B cells infected by EBV.
There is also renewed interest in developing vaccines and antivirals against EBV with the objective of eradicating MS. While antivirals targeting EBV don’t yet exist, Ascherio says their development is realistic: “Once you establish the causal connection, I think it’s a question of providing sufficient rational for research on antivirals, specifically for EBV, that could help people with MS [around] the world,” he concluded.
Happy New Year! As many of us start putting into practice our New Year’s resolutions for 2022, I wanted to share seven products that will help you crush your health and fitness goals this year.
1. Stainless Steel Water Bottle
Stay hydrated with a high-quality, stainless steel water bottle that you can bring with you anywhere- whether that’s to the gym, work, school, going out for a hike, or a jog around the neighborhood. I love this water bottle from the Austin, Texas-based company YETI, which makes high-quality stainless steel drinkware for those with an active lifestyle.
Everyone knows the importance of sleep, and how getting adequate levels of deep sleep can make or break your health. That’s why I highly recommend using a weighted blanket if you suffer from insomnia, including both poor or disrupted sleep. A 15-lb blanket like this one below from Amazon will weigh your body down in bed, helping you to not only fall asleep quicker, but stay asleep too!
Your genetic makeup has a huge impact on your health; that’s why it’s important to learn about how your genes can contribute to the development of health issues later in life. With a genetic test kit like this one from 23andMe, you can learn about your genes, including if you have a genetic predisposition for or if you’re a carrier of any health conditions. Thanks to my 23andme results, I learned four years ago that I have two genetic variants for early macular degeneration, and since then, have been religiously taking lutein and omega-3 supplements to improve my eye health.
A solid pair of running shorts is a must-have for anyone looking to add jogging to their 2022 fitness routine. Plus, running shorts are loose and comfortable, perfect for not just jogging, but practically any kind of physical activity, from playing a round of tennis to hitting the gym. Here is a highly-rated pair of running shorts for both men and women from Under Armour.
A yoga mat is a must-have for doing mat workouts, like yoga, pilates, or even when performing certain floor exercises with free weights, or when using a workout ball or band. I’ve owned my yoga mat since I was 12, and I’m now pushing 30 – so think of your mat as a long-term investment. A thick, non-slip mat that’s lightweight can easily be carried to your yoga studio, gym, or around the house.
With the advent of working from home, at-home fitness equipment has become increasingly popular. At the beginning of the pandemic, my husband and I got a rowing machine, which is great for a simple, at-home workout, especially if you want to tone up your arms, shoulders, and upper back. I would recommend getting a water rowing machine, as the resistance it provides imitates the feel of rowing through water in real life. While pricier than other home workout equipment, a good rowing machine will last you for years to come.
Staying motivated and ‘in the zone’ is an important part of maintaining your fitness routine. That’s why, when I’m working out, I like to listen to fast-paced music or to an interesting podcast on Spotify or Pandora. According to the Scientific American, listening to music or other entertainment while exercising can distract us from pain and fatigue, elevate our mood, increase our endurance, and reduce our perceived effort, among other benefits. That’s why I would recommend getting a solid pair of earbuds, such as these airpods, to become your best fitness buddies to accompany your workouts.
So there you have it, folks – seven products to help you up your game and crush those health and fitness goals in 2022! What are your go-to companions for your workouts? Let us know in the comments below!
Emma Zaks was 33 years old and living in New York City. As a fitness instructor at SoulCycle, she taught up to 18 spin classes per week, and was in terrific shape. That’s why Zaks was taken by surprise when, in the middle of teaching a spin class, she had to leave to throw up. Unable to continue the class with the debilitating stomach pains and nausea she was experiencing, she took an ambulance from her work to the ER.
After a few tests, including a colonoscopy, an endoscopy, and CT scans, Zaks was told that she likely had an infection affecting her stomach or intestines, and was given antibiotics and discharged after a six-day stay in hospital. The antibiotics didn’t work, however, and she woke up to a terrifying sight in the mirror: her right eye was pointing sideways. She was also seeing double.
Zaks later learned that she had had a stroke. Doctors prescribed her steroids, and covered her right eye with an eye patch to help her see straight. She was discharged from hospital, but Zaks’ troubling symptoms continued. “I found myself back at home, sicker than I’d ever been, and without a single real explanation. For two weeks, I lived and worked with continuing pain,” she explained.
She returned to the ER a third time, and an X-ray revealed that she had a stricture – her small intestines were abnormally narrow and had twisted around themselves, preventing anything from passing through. She received laparoscopic surgery to correct the stricture, and a biopsy to explore her condition further.
While awaiting her biopsy results, Zaks had an MRI done, which revealed a small lesion in her brain that controls eye movement and direction. Both her MRI and biopsy results lead doctors to diagnose Zaks with an autoimmune disease known as Wegener’s Vasculitis, or Granulomatosis with polyangiitis. The autoimmune condition had caused her stroke and her initial gastrointestinal issues.
“In a matter of months I’d become a shell of myself both externally and internally,” Zaks said. Her new treatment regimen included intense steroids and Rituxan infusions. She dropped to 95 pounds, was extremely weak, and always off balance due to her compromised vision.
Doctors offered few treatment options for her wayward right eye – which at this point, had been pointed sideways for a year. One medical provider even suggested Botox as a way to paralyze her eye muscles. Thankfully, she eventually found a physician that performed strabismus surgery, sewing the eye muscle to the wall of her eye, thereby fixing her vision.
Zaks was able to return to her job as a SoulCycle fitness instructor, and is grateful for her newfound health. “Since the surgery, I have to remind myself not to take for granted the everyday activities that used to drive me to tears in frustration,” she reflected.
Something else that has caused Zaks to reflect is the medical gaslighting she went through as part of her journey to diagnosis. “Knowing what I know now, I wish I had pushed harder for more answers, but who was I to question these doctors?” she lamented. “I hate confrontation and wanted to be a ‘good patient’ who was liked. So I took the prescriptions and advice to rest and went home, hoping for the best. Needless to say, things didn’t get better.”
Zaks believes it’s important to advocate for yourself as a patient, and trust your gut instinct. “If I had just listened to the initial diagnosis and prognosis, I would still be wearing an eye patch,” she declared.
To learn more about Zaks and her battle with Granulomatosis with polyangiitis, listen to her interview on the podcast Pregnantish.
According to the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC), type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disease in which the body’s own immune system destroys pancreatic beta cells that produce insulin. Without sufficient insulin, glucose levels build up in the blood and become too high, resulting in potentially life-threating symptoms. Read on to learn 10 interesting facts about type 1 diabetes.
1. T1D is less common than other forms of diabetes
Type 1 diabetes is less common than type 2 diabetes; approximately 5-10% of people living with diabetes have type 1. However, type 1 diabetes is far from a rare disease. According to Beyond Type 1, In the United States alone, 1.6 million Americans live with T1D, and an estimated 64,000 people are diagnosed with the condition each year. In fact, it is estimated that 5 million people will be diagnosed with T1D by 2050.
2. T1D is often diagnosed at a young age
Type 1 diabetes is usually diagnosed in children, teens, and young adults, but it can develop at any age. Because type 1 diabetes is caused by an autoimmune reaction, the destruction of beta cells can go on for months or even years before any symptoms appear in the patient. Type 1 diabetes can be diagnosed through a simple blood test, such as an A1C test, which measures your average blood sugar levels over the past 2-3 months. An A1C level of 6.5% or higher indicates you have diabetes.
3. There are several risk factors for T1D
Although the exact cause of type 1 diabetes is unknown, certain genes can make you more susceptible to developing T1D. Studies have shown, for example, that children with a genetic predisposition for and a family history of type 1 diabetes have more than a 1 in 5 risk for developing this autoimmune disease.
However, many people with these genes won’t go on to develop the condition even if they have a genetic predisposition. For that reason, environmental triggers, such as exposure to viruses, are also thought to play a part in the development of type 1 diabetes. Contrary to popular belief, diet and lifestyle habits do not cause type 1 diabetes.
4. Insulin is key to managing diabetes
T1D patients need to take insulin shots, or wear an insulin pump, every day to manage their blood sugar levels and get the energy their body needs. Patients with type 1 diabetes should work with their doctor to determine the most effective type of insulin and dosage that are right for them. Types of insulin range from ultra rapid-acting insulin, to rapid-acting, short-acting, intermediate-acting, long-acting, and ultra long-acting.
In addition, T1D patients also need to check their blood sugar levels regularly. By keeping their blood sugar levels close to a target determined by their physician, patients can prevent or delay further complications. Blood sugar levels can be monitored through the use of a blood glucose monitor and finger sticks, or a continuous glucose monitoring (CGM) system.
5. T1D causes a variety of symptoms
Type 1 diabetes symptoms can vary from patient to patient. According to the Mayo Clinic, some signs and symptoms of type 1 diabetes include: increased thirst, frequent urination, bed-wetting in children, extreme hunger, unintended weight loss, bacterial and fungal infections of the mouth, gum disease, irritability and mood changes, fatigue and weakness, and blurred vision.
Another common complication of type 1 diabetes is hypoglycemia, otherwise known as low blood sugar. This occurs when the patient has too much insulin, or has waited too long for a meal or snack, or simply hasn’t eaten enough food. It can also be caused by getting extra physical activity.
6. T1D can be disabling
Type 1 diabetes can result in complications affecting various bodily systems. For example, T1D can cause nerve damage, also known as neuropathy. Symptoms include tingling, numbness, burning or pain in one’s extremities. This can also cause gastrointestinal issues, like nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, or constipation. In men, erectile dysfunction can be an issue.
Foot damage may also occur, as a result of poor blood flow to or nerve damage in the feet. If not treated, cuts and blisters in the feet can turn into serious infections that may require limb amputation.
T1D may also cause kidney damage, resulting in kidney failure or irreversible end-state kidney disease, which requires dialysis or a kidney transplant.
It’s less commonly known that type 1 diabetes can also cause eye damage. The blood vessels of the retina become damaged (called diabetic retinopathy), potentially causing blindness. Diabetes also increases the risk of developing other vision conditions, like cataracts and glaucoma.
7. T1D can be life-threatening
Type 1 diabetes can in fact be life-threatening. For instance, T1D can cause cardiovascular problems like high blood pressure, coronary artery disease, chest pain (angina), atherosclerosis (narrowing of the arteries), heart attack, and stroke.
Another life-threatening complication of type 1 diabetes is diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA), a state in which your body cannot use the sugar in its bloodstream to produce energy, so it starts to break down fat as fuel. This causes ketones to be released into the body. If the level of ketones in your body becomes excessively high, this can result in a coma or even death. Some warning signs of DKA include dehydration, extreme thirst, flushed skin, nausea, stomach pain, vomiting, shortness of breath, fruity-smelling breath, and disorientation.
8. Lifestyle changes can make a difference
Although type 1 diabetes isn’t caused by poor diet or lifestyle habits, maintaining healthy lifestyle habits can go a long way to improving your overall health and wellbeing. Such habits include stress reduction, getting sufficient sleep, making healthy food choices, being physically active, and controlling your blood pressure and cholesterol levels.
Maintaining a close working relationship with your medical care team, and regularly attending your appointments, are also important in managing your type 1 diabetes. Your care team may include your primary care physician, endocrinologist, podiatrist (foot doctor), ophthalmologist and optometrist (eye doctors), dentist, pharmacist, registered dietician, and more.
9. Type 1 diabetes can develop during pregnancy
Type 1 diabetes may develop in women who are pregnant, a condition referred to as gestational diabetes. This occurs when blood sugar levels become high during pregnancy. Gestational diabetes affects up to 10% of women who are pregnant in the US each year. While gestational diabetes does go away after giving birth, it can impact your baby’s health, and raises your risk of developing type 2 diabetes later in life.
10. There is hope
If you are a type 1 diabetes patient, it’s important to get the support and resources you need to manage daily life with the condition. Here are a few resources that may help:
‘Tis the season for gift giving, and as many shoppers look for Black Friday deals this week to complete their holiday shopping, we’ve compiled a list of gift ideas for the chronic illness patient in your life.
1. Scented Heating Pad
When I first developed Sjogren’s Syndrome, I had debilitating joint pain that was only relieved by one thing: heat. I had a cheap little heating pad that I bought from a local pharmacy that I could use on my joints to ease some of my aches and pains. That cheap little heating pad broke, but fortunately, I was gifted a much nicer, lavender-scented heating pad that is perfect for not only my joints, but menstrual cramps and everyday aches and pains as well. Plus, this aromatic device can be quickly heated in your Microwave in under two minutes.
On the topic of joint pain, one of my friends from college has rheumatoid arthritis, a debilitating autoimmune condition affecting his joints. To relieve some of his joint pain, he wears compression gloves when completing everyday activities, like work or going to the gym. These compression gloves are made out of a lightweight fabric that makes everyday movement easy while still providing relief for painful, inflamed joints. Plus, we like that these gloves are fingerless at the tips, making it easy to still type, text, or grip objects.
With the dry winter air and many people working from home, a great holiday gift would be a home office humidifier. I can tell you as a Sjogren’s patient, there’s nothing worse than having to put eyedrops in up to 15 times per day! With a humidifier, however, your environment stays comfortably humid so your eyes and skin don’t get overly dried out. I like this model because it’s small enough for a home office, but large enough that it doesn’t have to be constantly refilled.
On the theme of moisture, any chronic illness patient dealing with dryness and skin sensitivity can appreciate a good skin moisturizer. Plus, with all of us constantly sanitizing our hands, they’re bound to be drier than ever. We love anything by Burt’s Bees, but we especially love this gift set of moisturizing skincare products, formulated specifically for dry, sensitive skin. Their all-natural products are made from beeswax, giving each product a delicate scent of honey.
Every chronic illness patient knows the importance of sleep and the impact quality sleep can have on one’s overall health and wellbeing. That’s why when insomnia hits, a quality weighted blanket can help. My husband purchased a 15-pound weighted blanket for me when I was having difficulty staying asleep, and it definitely did the trick! We love that this particular blanket comes in a variety of weights and mattress sizes, so you can find the one that will work best.
Thu-Thao was 16 years old when she was diagnosed with systemic lupus erythematosus, a debilitating autoimmune disease that causes a myriad of symptoms, including organ damage, joint pain, fatigue, brain fog, and more. Thu-Thao’s main lupus symptoms were severe joint pain, heart palpitations, kidney issues, hair loss, and skin rashes. She faced life-threatening complications, and as a result, had to drop out of playing sports.
After being diagnosed with lupus, Thu-Thao received a number of conventional treatments over the course of four years, including the anti-malarial drug hydroxychloroquine (the generic for Plaquenil), steroids, biologics, and immunosuppressants. However, none of these treatments were effective and her joint pain and skin problems continued to worsen.
In March 2021, at 20 years of age, Thu-Thao received an experimental immunotherapy called chimeric antigen receptor T-cell, or CAR-T for short. This immunotherapy is typically used on cancer patients, specifically those experiencing aggressive forms of leukemia or lymphoma. This therapy reprograms destructive immune cells in the patient’s body, allowing them to recognize and destroy tumors.
However, B-cells (the target of the therapy) are also heavily implicated in lupus, in which they create antibodies that directly target double-stranded DNA. The researchers theorized that they could use CAR-T therapy to decrease B-cell numbers in the body, resulting in fewer circulating autoantibodies that cause lupus symptoms.
Following the therapy, Thu-Thao’s CAR-T cell numbers rapidly increased and remained circulating in her system. The B-cells and autoantibodies in her body—thought to be the cause of the autoimmune symptoms—then began to rapidly deplete as well. Just six months after the treatment, Thu-Thao is in remission from her lupus symptoms, and has returned to playing sports.
“I can finally breathe properly and sleep through the night, and I no longer have any water retention, and the redness in my face has disappeared. My hair is also growing much more densely,” said Thu-Thao. She is also no longer experiencing heart palpitations: her heart rate dropped from an average of 115 to 130 beats per minute to 80 beats per minute.
The scientists at Universitätsklinikum Erlangen, the German university where the CAR-T treatment was administered, are pleased to see positive preliminary results in a patient with lupus.
“We see this as a milestone in the therapy of autoimmune diseases,” the scientists commented. They are now planning a clinical study with CAR-T cells in more patients with autoimmune diseases.
To read more about this new immunotherapy and the research being done at the Universitätsklinikum Erlangen, read the full article.
The U.S. Federal Drug Administration (FDA) has approved a drug manufactured by ChemoCentryx to treat a rare group of autoimmune diseases, called anti-neutrophil cytoplasmic autoantibody-associated vasculitis, or ANCA-AAV for short. According to ANCA Vasculitis News, ANCA-AAV causes inflammation and damage to the body’s small blood vessels. This inflammation is the result of antibodies that bind to certain cells of the immune system, called neutrophils, and overly activate them.
Since small blood vessels are found throughout the body, ANCA-AAV causes a variety of symptoms, including:
Poor kidney function, leading to kidney failure
Severe respiratory problems, including shortness of breath, hoarse voice, cough with blood or mucus, and chest pain
Neurological symptoms, including tingling, burning, numbness, and weakness
Central nervous system (CNS) involvement, such as headaches, cognitive impairment, and memory deficits. In severe cases, seizures, paralysis or loss of consciousness may also result.
Ear, nose, and throat (ENT) symptoms, like sinusitis, nasal discharge, rhinitis, and tinnitus (ringing in the ears)
Eye symptoms, including eye pain, vision impairment, and vision loss
Joint pain, muscle pain, and muscle loss
Skin lesions, including rashes, sores, ulcers, bumps, and bleeding underneath the skin
Digestive problems, like vomiting, diarrhea, nausea, abdominal pain, and blood in one’s stool
Due to the numerous symptoms ANCA-AAV causes, it can often be fatal for patients; in fact, ChemoCentryx states that the first year mortality rate for patients living with the disease is between 11 and 18 percent. Current ANCA-AAV treatments on the market include steroids and immunosuppressant medications which compromise the body’s ability to fight off infections. That’s why having a new treatment on the market that works via a different mechanism may be a saving grace for many ANCA-AAV patients.
The new drug, called avacopan, will be sold by ChemoCentryx under the brand name Tavneos. It works by blocking a protein called C5a receptor that is responsible for causing numerous inflammatory diseases. The drug’s wholesale price will be an astronomical $150,000-$200,000 per patient per year. However, it could be the life-saving treatment that the 40,000 ANCA-AAV patients in the US need.
The drug is currently being tested for use on other conditions as well, including the autoimmune skin disease Hidradenitis Suppurativa (HS). The drug has already received approval for commercialization in Japan, and is expected to be approved in Europe by the end of 2021.
Martina, a 29-year-old mother-of-two from Stuttgart, Germany, describes what it was like being diagnosed with this challenging autoimmune condition:
“It began rather unspectacularly, with flu-like symptoms, fever, headaches, and joint pain. So anyone would think, ‘It’s just a normal flu.’ Then it got worse over the course of a week and I went to the hospital.”
She was eventually diagnosed with ANCA-AAV after undergoing a series of blood tests. Unfortunately, she had to give up her career as an educator in the process, since she didn’t have a strong enough immune system to be interacting with children while taking steroids and immunosuppressants to control the disease. Patients like Martina are the ones that could potentially stand to benefit from new drug therapies like avacopan.
Jennifer Waddleton, 31, was working as a paramedic in emergency medical services when she was called to ground zero in New York City on September 11, 2001, after the devastating terrorist attacks on the twin towers. Waddleton is among an estimated 400,000 people who were exposed to toxic debris after the collapse of the towers.
At the time, Waddleton didn’t realize the impact that responding to the event had had on her physical and mental health. Now, however, things are different. She can barely stand for more than 30 minutes at a time or tolerate sunlight. She has brain lesions, her hair is falling out, and her teeth are deteriorating.
“My body is failing me at 51,” said Waddleton, who was diagnosed with cancer, chronic acid reflux, sinus issues, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). But Waddleton began to experience other symptoms that couldn’t be explained by these diagnoses, including crippling fatigue, chronic migraines, and difficulty swallowing. She knew something wasn’t right.
“In the back of my head, I always knew,” she said. “But everyone was like: ‘No, there’s nothing wrong with you. It’s all in your head. You need sleep, you work crazy hours. Stop complaining’.”
Despite dealing with medical gaslighting for years, Waddleton eventually had kidney failure, and doctors couldn’t deny her poor health any longer. She was diagnosed with systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) in 2012, 11 years after responding to 9/11. Lupus occurs when the body’s own immune system attacks and damages its organs and tissues.
Before being diagnosed, Waddleton was concerned that her troubling symptoms were somehow related to her experience as a 9/11 responder, and if there were others out there experiencing the same thing. According to several research studies, Waddleton’s concerns are valid; autoimmune diseases do appear to be on the rise among 9/11 victims and first responders alike.
Autoimmune diseases may have been triggered among 9/11 victims as a result of exposure to toxic dust at the scene. Crystalline silica, a construction mineral and major component of the debris, is a noted risk factor for autoimmune disorders. Other chemicals found on-site, like organic hydrocarbon solvents and asbestos, have also been associated with immune dysfunction. A 2015 study found that for every month a first responder worked on the World Trade Center site, the risk of developing an autoimmune disease rose by 13%. A 2019 study based on over 43,000 World Trade Center Health Registry participants found that first responders with intense exposure to the toxic dust were almost twice as likely to develop systemic autoimmune diseases. The most frequently diagnosed autoimmune conditions were rheumatoidarthritis, Sjogren’s syndrome, lupus, myositis, mixed connective tissue disease, and scleroderma.
The same 2019 study also purported that PTSD may also be responsible for triggering autoimmune disorders among 9/11 victims and first responders. This confirms other research on the connection between chronic stress, adverse childhood experiences (ACEs), and autoimmune disease.
Many victims of 9/11 can have their health insurance covered or receive a financial payout from the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund and the World Trade Center Health Program. However, autoimmune diseases are not acknowledged by the compensation fund nor the health program. This means that those who suffer from autoimmune diseases are ineligible for free health care, and cannot receive compensation for their suffering. Most of the covered conditions on the list include acute injuries, lung conditions, cancer, and mental health issues.
Multiple petitions among 9/11 victims have requested to have autoimmune diseases added to the list of covered conditions, to no avail; the federal government has cited lack of sufficient evidence proving the link between autoimmunity and exposures from 9/11. Another issue is that autoimmune diseases may have a genetic component, making it even more difficult to prove that the development of these conditions was caused by exposures during 9/11, and not the patients’ own genetic makeup.
So for now, first responders like Waddleton will have to wait until the research catches up. Waddleton manages a Facebook group for 9/11 emergency responders who have suffered from autoimmune diseases after the event, and has seen first-hand the effects that it’s had on these patients.
“It’s incredibly frustrating,” she said. “They left everyone else hanging. This wasn’t supposed to be my life.”
If you have a chronic illness, you’ll know all too well the feeling of going about your day when you’ve had poor sleep. That feeling of mental grogginess, accompanied by the physical aches…it’s not fun. Sleep performs several essential functions beyond just improving your mood, memory, and mental clarity. Sleep actually has important physiological impacts on your body as well. Read on to learn the top three reasons why sleep is especially important for chronic illness patients.
1. Decrease Inflammation
According to the Division of Sleep Medicine at Harvard Medical School, there is a link between lack of sleep and the risk of developing certain diseases and health problems. For example, sleep deprivation studies have shown that when healthy research study participants were deprived of adequate sleep levels, they experienced increased blood pressure and inflammation levels, in addition to impaired blood glucose control. These symptoms actually mimic the impact of increased stress on the body. Other studies have found that prolonged sleep deficiency can lead to chronic, body-wide low-grade inflammation and is associated with various diseases that have an inflammatory component, such as diabetes.
As many of you know, increased inflammation and an abnormal inflammatory response are what underlie many chronic illnesses, including autoimmune disease. As a result, it’s important to get enough sleep to ensure that your inflammation levels stay in-check.
2. Prevent Weight Gain & Hormone Imbalances
In addition to increasing your inflammation, studies have shown that a lack of sleep can also lead to weight gain. For instance, people who habitually sleep less than six hours per night are much more likely to have a higher than average body mass index (BMI), and people who sleep eight hours have the lowest BMI. For this reason, sleep deprivation is now considered a possible risk factor for obesity.
Poor sleep increases cortisol levels, a stress hormone that can increase visceral (mid-section) body fat storage. It is associated with increases in insulin as well; insulin is a hormone that regulates glucose processing and also promotes fat storage. A lack of sleep can also be the culprit for lower levels of leptin, a hormone that alerts the brain that it has had enough to eat, and higher levels of ghrelin, a biochemical that stimulates one’s appetite. This means that those with poor sleep may have intense food cravings, and feel hungry despite consuming enough calories.
3. Strengthen Immune Memory
According to the Sleep Foundation, sleep helps to strengthen immune memory, which is the immune system’s ability to remember how to recognize and react to dangerous antigens. With autoimmune disease, patients’ immune systems incorrectly attack their own healthy tissues and cells. As a result, autoimmune patients have immune systems with poor immune memory. Getting adequate sleep levels can help to strengthen your immune system’s ability to differentiate between your own tissues and foreign invaders.
Although the exact reasons why sleep helps your body to improve its immune memory are unknown, there are several hypotheses. For example, it’s believed that because breathing and muscle activity slow down while you’re asleep, your body now has freed up the energy for the immune system to perform these critical immune-memory tasks.
Another way that sleep helps your immune system is through the production of melatonin, a sleep-promoting hormone. Melatonin is known to have anti-inflammatory effects by scavenging toxic free radicals, which cause tissue destruction during an inflammatory reaction. Melatonin also reduces the over-expression of a variety of pro-inflammatory cytokines, which can cause a cytokine storm in one’s body. There is also some evidence that melatonin inhibits the production of adhesion molecules, which are responsible for causing inflammatory white blood cells to stick to endothelial cells in one’s connective tissue.
How Much is Enough?
By now, you may be convinced that you need more sleep…but how much shut eye is really enough? According to the Sleep Foundation’s guidelines, adults aged 18-64 need between 7 to 9 hours of sleep every night. Adults over the age of 65 are recommended to get a similar amount of sleep – between 7 to 8 hours – each night. Infants, children and teens need even more hours of sleep to sustain their growth and development.
Sleep Problems and Chronic Illness
Having a chronic illness like an autoimmune disease can directly impact your ability to get quality sleep. For instance, many autoimmune patients suffer from chronic pain, which makes it challenging to fall asleep or to stay asleep. In fact, two-thirds of patients with chronic pain conditions report experiencing sleep disorders like insomnia.
I myself have Sjogren’s Syndrome, which, in addition to chronic joint pain, causes severe dry eyes and dry mouth. In my earliest days of living with Sjogren’s, I had difficulty staying asleep, since I would constantly wake up every few hours to chug bucketloads of water to relieve my chronically dry mouth, go to the bathroom (as a result of all the water I was drinking!) and put in eyedrops to relieve my severely dry eyes. Fortunately, I was able to find relief for my dryness symptoms through prescription and over-the-counter products, which made it possible for me to get a good night’s rest, without having to constantly wake up.
Chronic illnesses can also result in mood disorders like depression and anxiety, which can in turn make falling asleep difficult. If you’re staying up late at night due to incessant worrying about your health problems, it’s important to get treatment for your mental health conditions from a provider who understands the realities of living with a chronic illness.
Thanks for stopping by the Autoimmune Warrior blog! Do you have difficulty sleeping with your chronic illness? Let us know in the comments below!
49-year-old actress Christina Applegate revealed on Twitter this week that she has been diagnosed with multiple sclerosis (MS), an autoimmune disease affecting the central nervous system. Applegate says she was diagnosed “a few months ago” after experiencing symptoms of the disease.
Commenting on her diagnosis, she said: “It’s been a strange journey. But I have been so supported by people that I know who also have this condition. It’s been a tough road…but as we all know, the road keeps going.”
According to John Hopkins Medicine, multiple sclerosis occurs when the immune system attacks nerve fibers and the myelin sheath– a fatty substance which insulates healthy nerve fibers – in the brain and spinal cord. This attack causes inflammation, which destroys nerve cell processes and myelin, altering electrical messages in the brain.
There are different types of MS, the most common of which is relapsing-remitting multiple sclerosis, which affects 90% of those diagnosed. Symptoms of a multiple sclerosis relapse include: fatigue, numbness, tingling, blurred vision, unsteady gait, and weakness.
Worldwide, more than 2.3 million people live with MS, including almost 1 million adults in the United States alone, according to the National MS Society. The neurological autoimmune disease can be disabling, although the MS Society states that the majority of people with the condition do not become severely disabled. Two-thirds of people who have MS remain able to walk, though they may need a mobility aid, such as a cane, and some will use a scooter or wheelchair because of fatigue, weakness, balance problems, or to assist with conserving energy.
Since coming out as newly diagnosed with MS, Applegate has received an outpouring of support from fans and other celebrities with the disease. Fellow actress Selma Blair, who co-starred with Applegate in a romantic comedy in 2002 and also has multiple sclerosis, tweeted: “Loving you always. Always here. As are our kids. Beating us up with love.” Talk show host Montel Williams, who also has MS, also tweeted his support: “We have MS – it will never have us unless we let it. Tara and I are sending hope and light your way.”
MS isn’t the first health battle Applegate has faced. In 2008, the star revealed that she had had a double mastectomy after testing posting for the BRCA gene, pre-disposing her to breast cancer. Facing her new MS diagnosis, Applegate has requested “privacy…as I go through this.”
As many of my subscribers know, I have an autoimmune disease called Sjogren’s Syndrome. One of the main symptoms that Sjogren’s patients can experience when living with this chronic inflammatory condition is dry skin.
Dry skin can take on many forms in Sjogren’s patients. From cracked lips to itchy skin rashes, there’s no shortage of dry skin symptoms when it comes to Sjogren’s. For me personally, my skin became so dry that my dermatologist diagnosed me with xerosis cutis, otherwise known as abnormally dry skin. So, how do I handle living with the chronic skin dryness caused by Sjogren’s?
1. Moisturize Daily with Skin Cream
My dermatologist recommended that since my skin was so dry, that I moisturize daily with a good skin cream. She also noted that there is a difference between skin creams and lotions. According to North Star Dermatology, skin creams and lotions are both made of a mixture of water and oil. However, skin creams are thicker and heavier than lotions, since they have a higher oil content (usually a 50-50 mix of water and oil). Lotions, however, have a higher water content, making them lighter than creams. If you have extremely dry skin, you’ll want to opt for a cream rather than a lotion, since creams provide a heavier barrier for keeping your dry skin hydrated.
The brands that my dermatologist recommended were the CeraVe and Aveeno for eczema skin creams (see links below). I find that using a high-quality skin cream right after a shower can also help to lock in moisture.
If you’re having really extreme dryness, you may want to opt for an ointment that will stay on your skin for longer than a traditional skin cream. Most ointments are made out of petroleum jelly, a thick substance that prevents them from being immediately absorbed into your skin.
In addition to Sjogren’s, I also have the inflammatory skin condition eczema (atopic dermatitis). One of the most helpful over-the-counter treatments for my eczema was a hydrocortisone ointment from my local pharmacy. I know a lot of people are against using steroid-based creams like hydrocortisone, but the over-the-counter variety only has about 1% cortisone. It would help to soothe the itchiness and redness associated with eczema, and I’ve also found it useful for dryness associated with my Sjogren’s.
I now use a prescription ointment from my dermatologist which is a bit stronger than the over-the-counter variety, but I’ve linked below an over-the-counter ointment option.
According to Garnier, sun exposure can further dehydrate your dry skin, since the sun’s rays will decrease moisture and essential oils from your skin’s surface. For this reason, you’ll want to use a moisturizer that also contains some SPF.
Plus, it’s important that whatever sunscreen you use, that it’s non-comedogenic if you put it on your face, meaning that it won’t clog your pores. This is essential if you tend to get acne breakouts from skincare products. The funny thing is, despite having pretty dry skin, the oily skin in the t-zone of my face never fails to break out in pimples…even at the ripe age of 28!
Living in sunny Southern California, daily sunscreen applications are practically a must. I’ve tried so many different sunscreens over the years, especially for my face, and I think my favorite so far would have to be the COOLA organic classic face sunscreen. Not only is it non-greasy, it also smells great (like a fresh cucumber scent) and provides great sun protection with SPF 50.
It’s no secret that if you have dry skin due to Sjogren’s or another condition, your lips have probably been victim to your lack of hydration. Dry, chapped lips aren’t just uncomfortable, they can also be painful if your lips start to crack.
I’ve personally had the misfortunate of having both dry, cracked lips, and eczema around my mouth- a downright awful combination. Below, I’ve linked to my favorite favorite brands of chapstick – Burt’s Bees and Evolution of Smooth (EOS) – which I’ve used to relieve dry skin on my lips. You can also find chapstick with SPF, if you’re looking for extra sun protection.
If you live in a dry environment, like a hot desert, or even a place that has extremely dry, cold winters, you’ll know what kind of damage it can wreck on your dry skin.
One year when I was 15, I spent the entire fall and winter in Canada, then spent the summer months in New Zealand (where it was technically the winter, since it was in the southern hemisphere). The 10-month long dry and cold fall/winter I had that year led me to break out in eczema rashes all over my body and my skin actually began to peel off in some places, to the point where I was shedding like I had dandruff all over my body!
If you’ve experienced anything similar, I would recommend investing in a solid humidifier that you can use to add moisture to the air in your dry environment. A humidifier is easy to use; all you need to do is refill it with water and plug it into a wall outlet, and a light mist will fill your room, making your dry skin more comfortable. They come in various sizes, so you can humidify a large room, or even a small office (just look for a ‘desk humidifier’). Below is the one that I use to humidify my home office, which is where I spend my time the majority of the week.
Those are the top 5 must-have products that I would recommend as a Sjogren’s Syndrome and eczema patient with dry skin. Do you have a condition that causes dry skin? If so, what have you found has worked best for you? Let us know in the comments below!
Marco Lobba was pursuing his PhD in Chemistry at UC Berkeley when he and his lab partners made a discovery. He had been studying the modification of proteins when he happened upon a technique called “oxidative coupling,” which modifies proteins so that they can be fused together. He and his partners also found that the enzyme tyrosinase could be used to make oxidative coupling much faster and more efficient. Tyrosinase is a naturally-occurring enzyme, found in fruits and vegetables, and is responsible for turning apples and avocadoes brown as they ripen.
The accelerated oxidative coupling method could be used to fuse proteins together, faster and more selectively, than any other method currently in use. This opens the door to treating autoimmune diseases, which attack the body by convincing a person’s antibodies to attack their own healthy cells. Using this discovery, scientists can attach ‘safe’ signals to healthy cells, helping the body’s immune system identify its own cells and refrain from attacking them.
“Think of it almost like Pavlov’s dogs,” explains Lobba. “Or tricking children into eating their vegetables by covering them in cheese,” he elaborated. “If you present the immune system with something it likes — at the same time as something it is attacking — it starts to associate that target as a good thing.”
Lobba presented his discovery during a course on entrepreneurship at UC Berkeley’s Haas School of Business. During the presentation, fellow classmate Geo Guillen saw how passionate he was about his research, and the value of his discovery in the treatment of autoimmune disease. It was this purpose that drove the pair to work together alongside Berkeley Chemistry professor, Matthew Francis, to co-found a startup called Catena Biosciences, focused on making autoimmune disease therapies.
Their startup launched remotely during the COVID-19 pandemic, at a time when biotechnology and pharmaceutical companies have come into focus for the role their organizations play in helping to keep our communities healthy and thriving. The startup has been valued at $10 million for its innovative technology and ground-breaking research.
Guillen commented on his company’s founding, saying: “We identified that the autoimmune market is one that is particularly ripe for disruption because a lot of the approaches to treating autoimmune disease focus on the symptoms, instead of the root cause. It’s a pretty large, untapped market.”
Catena Biosciences is aiming to conduct pre-clinical trials by the end of August 2021, which will test the impact of their therapeutics on autoimmune disease reactions in patients. Next month, the company will be looking to raise more funds for their startup to help them commercialize the treatment. The founders’ hope is that they can have a positive impact on those living with autoimmune diseases, like multiple sclerosis, lupus, and Type 1 diabetes.
The company has been awarded the 2021 Berkeley Big Ideas Award for their entrepreneurial endeavors. To learn more about Catena Biosciences, read about the company on the Berkeley News blog.
Eric Walters was a fit, 45-year-old husband and father, living his best life in Stevens Point, Wisconsin. An avid mountain biker and ice fisherman who embraced Wisconsin’s chilly weather and loved the outdoors, Walters began experiencing some concerning symptoms in January 2020.
He worked as an electrician, and had many busy days on the job. One day when he woke up to go to work, he found himself extremely dizzy. After two weeks of dizziness, he decided to go to urgent care, thinking that he had an ear infection.
Unfortunately, Walters never made it to the clinic. Instead he passed out on the job, and was transported to the ER. After receiving a steroid injection and told he was suffering from vertigo, he was discharged without further explanation. Doctors at the time didn’t know it, but Walters was suffering from a much more dangerous condition than vertigo.
It turns out that Walters had developed testicular cancer, but even he didn’t know it. His immune system had gone after the cancer and eradicated it, leaving behind a non-cancerous mass of cells. But, even after the cancer was gone, Walters’ immune system went on the hunt for more KLH11, also called Kelch proteins, which are the cells associated with testicular cancer. Because Kelch proteins are also located in the brain stem, his immune system went after his brain as well.
When Walters began experiencing more dizziness, his doctors performed an MRI, revealing a lesion on his brain stem. At the time, his physicians thought he was suffering from multiple sclerosis (MS), a reasonable assumption given that this autoimmune condition also causes scarring lesions on the brain.
Walters was put on a treatment for MS, but continued to experience scary symptoms like double vision, dizziness, and a locking jaw. His facial muscles began to degrade, and just breathing took considerable effort. He received another MRI, which revealed that the single lesion on his brain stem had grown even larger. However, this was inconsistent with typical MS symptoms, which would result in multiple lesions.
At that point, Walters’ medical care team realized that they were dealing with something other than MS. He was then transferred to the Mayo Clinic’s Rochester, New York campus, where a friend of his had received excellent treatment. There he underwent a full battery of new tests, including an ultrasound and CT scan, which revealed the non-cancerous mass indicating that he had had testicular cancer. Combined with his symptoms, Walters was diagnosed with testicular cancer-associated paraneoplastic encephalitis, also known as Kelch-11 encephalitis for short.
Relatively little is known about Kelch-11 disease, which was only discovered by researchers in 2019. It is, however, known to be an autoimmune disease that causes severe neurological symptoms in men diagnosed with testicular cancer, affecting their limb movements, vision, and speech.
With his new diagnosis, Walters’ doctor prescribed him stronger steroids and chemotherapy to tamper down his rogue immune system. He also was inserted with a diaphragmatic pacer, which helps send signals to his lungs to keep breathing, along with a ventilator. Though living with Kelch-11 hasn’t been easy, Walters’ son Sam and wife Mary are what keep him going.
“We’ll become the poster child of Kelch if it means that other people don’t have to go through this,” says his wife Mary Walters. She wants to raise awareness for Kelch-11 disease, so others can get an accurate diagnosis and the treatment they deserve. According to Walters’ physician, Dr. Divyanshu Dubey, there are only 60 known patients who have been identified with this disease in the past few years.
As for Walters, he and his wife have faith that he will recover. “I’m just starting the healing process now,” he said. “Now I really get to fight.”
If you would like to contribute to helping Eric Walters and his family fight this devastating autoimmune disease, his brother has set up a GoFundMe fundraiser with the objective of raising $25,000.
Medical researchers have long asked the question: Is there a connection between one’s blood type and autoimmune disease?
Clinical studies have had varied results, mostly due to the small sample sizes of each study. Though this area needs more research, this blog post will cover some of the research that has been published so far.
The researchers assessed 823 patients, with the following distribution of blood types: 42.5% patients had type A blood, 33.2% had type O blood, 15.4% had type B, and 8.9% had type AB. Each patient in the study had at least one of the following nine rheumatic diseases:
Familial Mediterranean fever (FMF)
Rheumatoid arthritis (RA)
Systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE)
Systemic sclerosis (SSc)
Sjogren’s syndrome (SjS)
Undifferentiated connective tissue disease
Their study found that there was a significant difference in the distribution of blood types among those with rheumatic diseases. The most common autoimmune diseases among those with type A blood were: rheumatoid arthritis, spondyloarthropathy, vasculitis, Behçet’s disease, and undifferentiated connective tissue disease.
The most common autoimmune diseases among those with type O blood were: systemic lupus erythematosus, systemic sclerosis, and Sjogren’s syndrome. The researchers also noted that SLE, SSc and SjS are the connective tissue disorders frequently observed with antinuclear antibodies (ANA). The rheumatic disease familial Mediterranean fever was also found to be most common in those with type O blood.
Those with blood type AB were observed to be the least likely to suffer from rheumatic disease. However, it should be noted that type AB blood is also the most rare blood type in general, and represented the smallest amount of patients studied.
In addition, it was found that there was a significant difference in the distribution of Rh factor in rheumatic diseases. Of those with rheumatic diseases, 92.2% patients were Rh positive and only 7.8% patients were Rh negative. However, it should once again be noted that a positive Rhesus Factor (Rh+) is also more common among the general population than a negative Rhesus Factor (Rh-).
Is there a link between autoimmune disease and blood type?
So, if you have blood types A or O, does this mean you are more likely to get an autoimmune disease? The researchers who conducted this study concluded: “…we believe that the higher incidence of different rheumatic diseases in different blood types is associated with different genetic predispositions.”
In other words, since blood type is inherited (i.e. genetic), the results of the study point to a likely connection between certain genes and the increased predisposition for developing an autoimmune or rheumatic disease.
Do you know your blood type?
I, for one, do not know my own blood type. This is somewhat ironic, since I’ve undergone many blood tests as part of my Sjogren’s syndrome diagnosis, as well as for monitoring my liver enzyme levels while taking certain medications to control my autoimmune symptoms.
I actually did ask my primary care doctor what my blood type was the last time he ordered a test, and he advised that finding out your blood type is not a common part of the blood testing routine, and thus, he didn’t know what mine was.
If you have an autoimmune disease (or multiple diseases), and you know your blood type, comment below and let us know, are your condition and blood type consistent with the results of this study?
At Autoimmune Warrior, we believe that scientific research and development holds the key to unlocking new, innovative treatments and ultimately, a cure for autoimmune disease. In today’s blog post, we’ll explore three different biotechnology companies that are pioneering research about autoimmune diseases.
Why should companies research autoimmune diseases?
According to the American Autoimmune Diseases & Related Disorders Association (AARDA), there are over 100 different types of autoimmune diseases affecting 50 million people in the US alone. This demonstrates that autoimmune diseases are one of the most prevalent conditions nationwide. Furthermore, the AARDA reports that autoimmunity is one of the top 10 leading causes for death among American women. These figures show the high impact that medical research could have on autoimmune patients.
There is, of course, a financial incentive for biotech companies as well. A Research & Marketsreport indicated that as of 2017, the global autoimmune disease therapeutics market was estimated to be worth over US$109 billion. This figure was projected to grow to US$153 billion by 2025. Part of this growth has been attributed to the rise in autoimmune diseases among the general population and specific groups; although it’s been argued that medical professionals are becoming more aware of autoimmune conditions, and therefore, are simply getting better at diagnosing patients.
How can I help fund research & development?
If you or someone you love suffers from an autoimmune condition, you’ll know how important it is to find effective treatment options. As a result, you may consider investing your hard-earned dollars in companies that are pioneering autoimmune disease research. Below are three companies that I have personally researched that are contributing to this cause.
1. Landos Biopharma
Landos Biopharma is a Virginia-based company started by former Virginia Tech inflammation & immunology professor Josep Bassaganya-Riera, PhD. Landos is considered to be clinical-stage biopharmaceutical company focused on the discovery and development of oral therapeutics for patients with autoimmune diseases. In particular, the company is developing therapeutics for those with autoimmune diseases of the gastrointestinal tract, such as ulcerative colitis (UC) and Crohn’s disease.
Landos, which was founded in 2017, is a publicly-listed company on the NASDAQ stock exchange under the ticker symbol LABP. As of writing, the stock sits at just above US$12 per share.
UCB is a Brussels, Belgium-based multinational company, with a long history of research and development in the area of immunology. Some of the company’s autoimmune disease research areas include: rheumatoid arthritis, psoriasis, Crohn’s disease, lupus, and myasthenia gravis (MG). The company actively works with clinics worldwide to recruit for clinical studies with autoimmune patients; some of the studies they are actively recruiting for at the time of writing (June 2021) include patients with hidradenitis suppurativa, lupus, psoriasis and myasthenia gravis.
UCB is a 90-year-old company, and is publicly listed on the EBR stock exchange under the ticker symbol UCB. As of writing, the stock sits at just above 85 euros per share.
Abbvie is a Chicago-based multinational company that was spun off from Abbott Laboratories. Abbvie has been striving to advance the standard of care in rheumatology for more than 20 years. The company says that they are focused on developing therapeutics for patients with chronic diseases, which is said to account for 75 percent of all healthcare costs. Some of the company’s autoimmune research areas include: rheumatoid arthritis, systemic lupus erythematosus, psoriasis and multiple sclerosis. The company has already developed a number of well-known anti-inflammatory treatments, including HUMIRA (adalimumab).
Abbvie was spun-off in 2013, and is a publicly-listed company on the NYSE under the ticker symbol ABBV. As of writing, the stock sits at just above US$114 per share.
Would you consider investing in these biotech companies? Why or why not? Let us know in the comments below!
Disclaimer: This blog post is not intended to provide financial advice, but to raise awareness about companies conducting research & development towards advancing autoimmune disease therapeutics. Always consult with your physician before beginning a new treatment plan.
For those of you who are new to the Autoimmune Warrior blog, I have two autoimmune conditions – Sjogren’s Syndrome and Hidradenitis Suppurativa (HS). Over the years, my HS has taken a backseat while I’ve dealt with my Sjogren’s symptoms.
In the past year, however, I’ve been more active about working with my dermatologist to manage this chronic autoimmune skin condition. By actively managing my HS symptoms, my hope is that I won’t move past Hurley Stage I of the disease, or even go into remission.
As I noted in my last blog post about my new Hidradenitis Suppurativa treatment plan, I’ve been working with a new dermatologist who has prescribed me a topical cream called resorcinol, in addition to the clindamycin and Hibiclens that I routinely use. Besides topical treatments, however, I’ve also started getting laser hair removal in my groin and underarms, which are the main areas where Hidradenitis Suppurativa affects me.
What does the science say?
For those who are unaware, laser hair removal has been cited as a way to reduce HS symptoms like boils and abscesses in the groin, underarms, and elsewhere in the body’s axillary regions. The logic is that, by using a laser to destroy your hair follicles, the follicle cannot get clogged; this is important, since, as my dermatologist explained, follicular occlusion is one of the main parts of the disease.
In fact, studies have shown that patients with Hidradenitis have seen improvement in their HS symptoms after receiving laser hair removal treatments. A 2011 study found that when 18 patients were treated in a single area affected by Hidradenitis twice a week with intense pulsed light over four weeks, they experienced ‘significant improvement’ in the mean examination score of their lesions. The patients also reported being ‘highly satisfied’ with their treatment.
Laser hair removal in HS patients
There are different types of lasers that can be used for laser hair removal. Some of the more effective ones have been found to be the long-pulsed lasers such as the IPL and Nd:YAG laser. The Nd:YAG laser in particular has found to be more effective on darker skin tones; this is because the laser needs to distinguish between your hair and skin color in order to work. Some clinical trials using the CO2 laser have also shown promise in the treatment of HS, but larger study samples are needed.
In addition to these studies, anecdotal evidence from other HS patients is what motivated me to move forward with getting laser hair removal to treat my hidradenitis. Reading the experiences of other bloggers who are living with the condition and have found positive results after laser hair removal gave me hope that I could experience the same benefits.
Drawbacks of laser hair removal for Hidradenitis Suppurativa
There are, however, some drawbacks to consider when getting laser hair removal to treat your HS. If you are at Hurley Stage III of the disease, for example, laser hair removal may not be the best option for you, since your skin is highly sensitive, and the laser may exacerbate inflammation and cause undue pain to the area(s) affected. Also, the laser may not be able to penetrate scar tissue that has formed as a result of your HS. For patients at an advanced stage of the disease, wide-excision surgery or deroofing may be better options instead, in combination with antibiotics or even immunosuppressants like Humira. In summation, laser hair removal is a more practical option for those with Hurley Stage I or II of the disease.
Also, though laser hair removal technology continues to evolve, if you have a darker skin tone and dark hair, or a lighter skin tone and light-colored hair, you may not be a good candidate for laser hair removal, since the laser may not be able to distinguish between your hair and skin.
Another drawback is the expense. Laser hair removal can cost thousands of dollars, depending on the type of laser used, the number of treatments necessary to see results, and the size of the area. Getting your laser treatment done at a medical clinic by a doctor or nurse, or at a beauty salon by a certified technician, may impact the price you pay. Furthermore, many health insurance plans do not cover the cost of treatment, since, despite the research out there, laser hair removal is still not a universally recognized treatment for hidradenitis suppurativa, and is viewed as a cosmetic procedure.
Finally, laser hair removal can take a long time. At the clinic I am going to, laser hair treatments are usually delivered every 4-8 weeks, depending on the area being treated. I am getting treated every 6 weeks, and while I think it is worth it to see results, patients looking for a more immediate change may be disappointed with such slow progress.
Should I get laser hair removal to treat my HS?
In conclusion, whether or not you should move forward with getting laser hair removal to treat your hidradenitis suppurativa symptoms is really a decision that should be made between you and your dermatologist. While HS is not an easy condition to live with, as biotechnology and pharmaceutical treatments evolve, and as patients and medical professionals become more aware of alternative treatment methods, there is hope for those living with HS.
Thanks for stopping by the Autoimmune Warrior blog! If you’d like to receive blog posts like these delivered straight to your inbox, please subscribe now!
As many of my subscribers know, I have an autoimmune disease called Sjogren’s Syndrome. One of the main symptoms of Sjogren’s is dry mouth, also known as xerostomia.
While those with adequate saliva levels may not think that this is a big deal, us dry mouth sufferers know that even a small amount of mouth dryness can wreck havoc on your health. According to the Mayo Clinic, mouth dryness can cause an array of health issues, including mouth sores (ulcers), oral thrush (a yeast infection in your mouth), increased dental decay, tooth loss, gum disease, bad breath, issues with chewing, swallowing and speech, loss of taste, and poor nutrition and digestion.
In fact, one of the reasons I first got diagnosed with Sjogren’s Syndrome was because of my mouth dryness. I had gone to the dentist, and I was told that I had eight cavities (yes, eight!) when I had never had a single cavity in the entire 20 years of my life. Not only that, but I had a thick coating of white gunk of my tongue (yuck!), and my dentist told me that I had oral thrush. I had to take prescription antibacterial mouthwash to get rid of the yeast infection in my mouth. Finally, I was having issues with talking and swallowing food, especially if it was dry food, like crackers or chips. I was drinking loads of water each night, but nothing seemed to alleviate my thirst.
After I was diagnosed with Sjogren’s, I understood that mouth dryness was a large part of living with this chronic autoimmune disease. I was prescribed pilocarpine (the generic for Salagen) to help stimulate saliva production. However, it took an array of dry mouth solutions to help alleviate my mouth dryness. Here are my top 5 products that I would recommend for other dry mouth suffers, below.
1. Alcohol-Free Mouthwash
My first recommendation would be to switch to using an alcohol-free mouthwash. If you suffer from dry mouth, you probably know just how drying alcohol can be. Also, if you have a dry mouth, you are likely extra sensitive to how harsh an alcohol-based mouthwash is.
My go-to mouthwash is Biotene’s Dry Mouth Oral Rinse. It helps to keep bad breath from dry mouth at bay, and helps my mouth feel more moisturized after I’ve brushed my teeth and rinsed with it. It sounds strange, but I’ve found that I sleep better at night when my mouth doesn’t feel so dry. Plus, it keeps me from having to get up in the middle of the night to drink gallons of water!
XyliMelts are kind of like cough drops, since they’re hard discs that you can suck on to stimulate saliva production, alleviate dry mouth, and freshen your breath. Unlike cough drops, however, they’re sugar-free (they contain xylitol), so they won’t cause dental decay, which is important for dry mouth sufferers.
Since there isn’t any chewing involved (unlike gum), they easily melt in my mouth, providing me with long-lasting dryness relief. Before I started working from home, I found that these were great to take into the office and keep in my desk drawer, so I wasn’t having to chug water all the time!
The next must-have dry mouth product on my list would be a moisturizing mouth gel. A moisturizing mouth gel is basically a saliva replacement, that you can squirt into your dry mouth to make it feel more comfortable.
Though it doesn’t have the exact same texture as real saliva, and lacks the enzymes found in it (which aid digestion), I have found that using a saliva replacement helps me sleep through the night without having to wake up to constantly drink more water. It also makes wearing my night guard/retainer at night more comfortable. Plus, it can help during the daytime if I’m having a particularly bad day, in which my mouth dryness is affecting my speech and making my voice hoarse.
Again, my go-to product comes from the brand Biotene: the Biotene Dry Mouth Oral Balance Gel. I find it is the most saliva-like among the different brands I’ve tried (the first brand I tried had the texture of toothpaste!)
If you suffer from dry mouth, a regular toothbrush just won’t make the cut. In addition to frequently visiting your dentist and dental hygienist for regular check-ups and cleanings, it’s important to take steps in your own oral hygiene routine to prevent dental caries (teeth cavities) from developing.
I’ve used several different tooth brushes over the years, and my top two would be from Oral B and Philips. These high-powered electric toothbrushes give me a deep clean, and prevent plaque from building up on my teeth and my gums from developing gingivitis. So, if you’re using a manual toothbrush still, it’s time to upgrade to some better technology.
If you have severe dry mouth, you’ll know that sometimes your lips can get extremely dry too, even to the point where they crack at the corners and bleed! I also have a skin condition called eczema (oh, joy!) which further contributes to dryness and skin peeling around my mouth/lip area. That’s why I regularly use chapstick to keep my lips feeling moisturized and healthy.
My favorite natural chapstick brand has got to be Burt’s Bees. It’s made out of real beeswax, rather than synthetic chemicals (like the ones found in most lipsticks), which can dry out your lips even more. Plus, they come in lots of great flavors, like coconut and pear, vanilla bean and strawberry, so your lips will never be bored!
These five dry mouth products have made a big difference in improving my quality of life with Sjogren’s Syndrome. Though everyone has a different regimen that works best for them, I truly hope that this blog post helps you find dry mouth solutions that work for you. And let us know in the comments below: what dry mouth products do you use to help alleviate your dryness symptoms?
Remember, always talk to your doctor before beginning a new medication, regimen, or treatment plan. Please read Autoimmune Warrior’s product recommendations disclaimer on our About Us page regarding our participation in Amazon’s Associates Program.
Carrie Ann Inaba, TV host on CBS’ The Talk and judge on ABC’s hit show Dancing with the Stars opened up about her struggle living with autoimmune diseases and chronic illnesses on her blog, Carrie Ann Conversations.
The Emmy award-nominated TV personality said that she has been diagnosed with several different autoimmune diseases and chronic conditions over the years, including Sjogren’s Syndrome, Systemic Lupus Erythematosus (SLE) and Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA), and she also has the markers for Antiphospholipid Syndrome (APS), which causes blood clots. The 53-year-old dancer and choreographer says she also struggles with fibromyalgia and spinal stenosis.
As a result of her various autoimmune conditions, Inaba has taken a leave of absence from her role on The Talk so that she can focus on her health, reports MedPage Today.
Talking about her health journey, Inaba said: “Even if we are fortunate enough to get a diagnosis, we can quickly end up with more questions than answers. Often when it comes to autoimmune conditions there is no perfect solution or clear path forward.”
Inaba continued, explaining: “Coping with autoimmune conditions can sometimes feel quite lonely. When I first got diagnosed, some encouraged me to keep my struggles to myself, but I’ve found that it’s always been better to be honest about my needs and realities than to stay silent. I believe strongly in sharing my journey, my solutions, and the things that have helped me.”
In this spirit, Inaba has shared on her blog the products that have helped her cope with her autoimmune disease symptoms – including eye dryness, mouth dryness, joint pain, fatigue, brain fog and more – so that others can benefit from these products and see if they work for them.
This isn’t the first time that Carrie Ann Inaba has opened up about her health struggles. The starlet previously posted on Instagram about how she felt ashamed of her autoimmune diseases, and wanting “…to be what people see. And people see a healthy person, from the outside.” However, confronting her health problems made Inaba reflect on who she is as a person, besides just her identity as a “sexy dancer chick.”
From all of us at Autoimmune Warrior, we want to thank Carrie Ann for opening up about her health journey as an #AutoimmuneWarrior, and raising awareness about the 80+ autoimmune diseases affecting over 23 million Americans. Because of celebrities like her, more people among the general population are learning about autoimmune conditions, and why extensive research is needed to find better treatments, and eventually, a cure.
According to the US National Library of Medicine, inflammation is your body’s normal physiological defense against pathogen infection. In normal circumstances, the inflammatory process ends quickly; but, with many chronic conditions, the immune system’s response continues well after an infection is present, leading to significant tissue and organ damage. This is the case with many autoimmune diseases, such as rheumatoid arthritis (RA), systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE), type 1 diabetes, and more.
Many autoimmune disease patients are forced to turn to pharmaceutical drugs to calm their overactive immune systems. Unfortunately, many of these immunosuppressant drugs are not without significant side effects. Plus, by decreasing your body’s ability to fight infections, patients may find that they’re vulnerable to bacteria and viruses, something that’s especially of concern now during the COVID-19 pandemic.
But, what if there was a way to fight inflammation naturally, without having to turn to prescription medications with difficult side effects? According to Harvard Health Publishing, some of the best anti-inflammatory compounds can be found not in your local pharmacy, but in the grocery aisle.
“Many experimental studies have shown that components of foods or beverages may have anti-inflammatory effects,” explains Dr. Frank Hu, Professor of Nutrition and Epidemiology at Harvard’s School of Public Health. Anti-inflammatory food also helps individuals to maintain a healthy weight – something important, since weight gain is a risk factor for inflammation. However, even when studies controlled for obesity, the effects of inflammation remained: “Some of the food components or ingredients may have independent effects on inflammation over and above increased caloric intake,” Dr. Hu says.
So, what are these anti-inflammatory foods that you can grow at home? Check out the full list, below!
Tomatoes were first on Harvard Health Publishing‘s list of anti-inflammatory foods. According to Healthline, tomatoes are an excellent source of lycopene, an antioxidant with anti-inflammatory properties. Studies have also shown that lycopene may be beneficial for reducing pro-inflammatory compounds related to several types of cancer. Another study found that women with excess weight who drank tomato juice significantly decreased their inflammatory markers.
Tomatoes are also some of the easiest plants to grow. I grew up in Southwestern Canada, an area that isn’t exactly known for warm weather or sunshine. Despite the climate, our family was able to easily grow cherry tomatoes on our small, north-facing balcony during the spring and summer. Now that I live in Southern California, tomatoes grow even more abundantly, and we’re growing both cherry and heirloom varieties.
Pro tip- if you’re looking to increase lycopene absorption, consider cooking your tomatoes in olive oil. This is because lycopene is a carotenoid, which is a nutrient that is better absorbed in combination with a fat.
This leads us to the next item on our list…
Olives are rich in monounsaturated fats, which are heart-healthy fats that combat damaging inflammation. It’s no wonder then, that olives and olive oil are staples in the mediterranean diet, a healthy eating lifestyle followed by many supercentenarian communities.
Olives and olive oil also contain oleocanthal, an antioxidant that has been compared by scientists to ibuprofen, the nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) commonly taken to combat pain and inflammation. Extra virgin olive oil has even more anti-inflammatory benefits compared to more refined types of olive oil.
Olive trees grow best in a subtropical, mediterranean climate in which winters are mild and summers are long, dry and warm. The best climate for olive trees would be zones 10 and 11, though certain varieties of olive trees can tolerate zones 8 or 9. Then, once you’ve grown olives, you can use an oil press machine to extract the oils from the pitted fruit. We live in zone 10a and are currently growing an olea europaea, which is the European variety.
Of course, if you don’t live in an ideal climate for growing olives, then not to worry – olives and extra virgin olive oil are commonly found in grocery stores all over the world.
3. Leafy Greens
Green, leafy vegetables are next up on the list. Spinach, kale and collard greens are all easy-to-grow vegetables that possess powerful, anti-inflammatory properties. According to the Arthritis Foundation, these vegetables are high in vitamins like A, C and K which protect your cells against damaging free radicals. They are also high in calcium, which helps promote bone health.
In our garden, we’re currently growing spinach and red chard. Not only do these vegetables grow extremely fast, they also are quite hardy across different climates, and produce an abundant, constant harvest. Plus, leafy greens aren’t just for salads – you can throw them in your smoothie or protein shake, in soups and stews, stirfries, and even scramble them up with eggs. The possibilities are endless!
3. Cruciferous Vegetables
Cruciferous veggies include broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, brussels sprouts, radishes, rutabaga, turnips, kohlrabi, watercress and bok choy. These vegetables have many of the vitamins and minerals found in other leafy greens, plus the added benefit of a phytochemical called sulphoraphane, which has been shown to block the inflammatory process, and may slow cartilage damage in osteoarthritis (OA), according to studies done on mice.
In lab studies, sulphoraphane has also been shown to stimulate enzymes in the body that detoxify carcinogens before they can damage one’s cells. Two other compounds found in cruciferous vegetables called indole 3-carbinol and crambene are also believed to activate detoxifying enzymes.
Cruciferous vegetables belong to the brassica family, and are best suited to regions with mild summers, cool springs and fall temperatures. This means that you don’t have to live in a tropical or subtropical area to be able to grow these anti-inflammatory foods.
Berries contain antioxidants called anthocyanins, which are compounds that have anti-inflammatory effects and may reduce your risk of disease. Studies have shown that people who ate berries consistently had lower levels of certain inflammatory markers in their blood. Other studies have shown that individuals who consume berries also had higher levels of natural killer (NK) cells that kept their immune system functioning properly.
Though many different varieties of berries exist, the most common are strawberries, raspberries, blueberries and blackberries. While many berry varieties are native to the wet Pacific Northwest, berries like strawberries can be successfully grown in drier climates like California and Mexico when given enough water. Here in Southern California, we have been able to successfully grow both strawberries and blueberries during the wetter winter months, and recently planted raspberry and blackberry bushes as well.
Mushrooms contain a property called phenols, which have been shown to provide protection against damaging inflammation. Other anti-inflammatory properties found in mushrooms include polysaccharides, terpenoids, phenolic compounds, and many other low molecular weight molecules. Lion’s mane mushrooms have also been found to reduce low-grade, chronic inflammation linked to metabolic disorders like obesity. Thanks to its healing properties, fungi has often been used in traditional medicine across different parts of Asia and Africa.
Some easy-to-cook mushroom varieties include white button, crimini, portabella, oyster, lion’s mane, shiitake, morels and truffles. Though you may be thinking, ‘how can I grow mushrooms in my home garden?’ It’s actually easier than you think! We have used a mushroom grow kit from Back to the Roots to grow both oyster mushrooms and lion’s mane mushrooms at home in as little as two weeks!
Grapes, like berries, also contain high levels of anthocyanins, which have anti-inflammatory effects. Consumption of grapes has been shown to reduce the risk of many conditions, including diabetes, heart disease, Alzheimer’s, and eye disorders. Grapes are also a staple in the mediterranean diet, as well as moderate levels of heart-healthy red wine. In fact, cannonau red wine has touted for its antioxidant benefits by supercentenarian researchers in the blue zones of Italy and Greece, due to its artery-scrubbing flavonoids.
Grapevines grow best in areas with long, warm summers and rainy winters. This is why only certain parts of the world are known for producing the best grapes for wine-making: the Bordeaux region of France, Tuscany, Italy, the Napa Valley in California, La Rioja in Spain, the Colchuaga Valley in Chile, and the Okanagan Valley in British Columbia, Canada. While I don’t anticipate that we’ll be making any wine at home, we are growing both a red and green grapevine in our California garden, and so far, both have taken off quite well.
Last but certainly not least, turmeric is one of the best plants to combat inflammation. This is because turmeric contains a property called curcumin, a powerful, anti-inflammatory nutrient found to help those suffering from arthritis, diabetes, and other conditions causing joint pain.
Turmeric resembles a root vegetable, and once harvested, it can be dried out and ground to make a spice. Turmeric is commonly used in South Asian and Middle Eastern cuisines. Being part East Indian myself, I know that it’s a staple in Indian curries, as well as in Ayurvedic medicine, which has been practiced for thousands of years in India.
However, many individuals with joint pain opt to take curcumin supplements, rather than grow turmeric at home or buying the spice at the grocery store. This is because it can be challenging to get enough curcumin through eating turmeric, unless you consume a lot of it. Plus, curcumin has been found to be more easily absorbed when taken in combination with piperine, a compound found in black pepper. So the benefit of taking a curcumin supplement is that it often has piperine added to aid absorption.
Do you grow any of these anti-inflammatory plants in your home garden? Let us know in the comments below!
Please note, this content and any products cited in it are for informational purposes only. Autoimmune Warrior does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment.
As many of my subscribers know, I have an autoimmune disease called Sjogren’s Syndrome. One of the main symptoms of Sjogren’s is dry eyes, among many other things.
While those who don’t have dry eyes may not think that it’s a big deal, us dry eye sufferers know that even a small amount of eye dryness can wreck havoc on your health and lifestyle. According to the Mayo Clinic, chronic dry eyes can cause an array of issues, including discomfort and irritation, which could feel like burning, itching or like an eyelash or other foreign object is stuck in your eye. Other symptoms include blepharitis (meibomian gland dysfunction), eyelids turning inwards (ectropion) or outwards (entropion), eye infections, eye inflammation, corneal ulcers and other eye abrasions. In severe cases, dry eye can even result in vision loss.
That’s why it’s imperative that if you suffer from dry eye, that you find ways to ensure your eyes are adequately hydrated so that you can minimize the impact of dry eye symptoms. In this blog post, I wanted to share the products that have worked for me in helping to reduce my Sjogren’s-related dry eye symptoms.
1. Artificial Tears
One of the main products that I use daily for dry eye relief are artificial tears. These over-the-counter eyedrops are similar to the ones that can be found in a small bottle, but instead, they’re packaged in individual vials and are preservative-free.
When I was first diagnosed with Sjogren’s, my ophthalmologist recommended that if I was using eyedrops more than four times a day, it was imperative that I use a preservative-free eye drop brand to reduce the possibility for a toxic or allergic reaction to the preservatives. As a result, I now exclusively use preservative-free artificial tears. There are many over-the-counter brands available, but my favorite by far is Refresh Artificial Tears.
During my ongoing battle with dry eye disease, I developed a condition called blepharitis. According to the American Optometric Association (AOA), blepharitis is an inflammation of the eyelids, in which they can become swollen, itchy, red, and irritated.
As a result, I frequently use heat compresses on my eyelids to relieve the swelling and inflammation. By using a face towel soaked in warm water, I was able to not only decrease the swelling, but also to clean my eyelids, which can become even more clogged with dandruff-like scales when you have blepharitis.
More recently, my ophthalmologist recommended that I look into purchasing a Bruder mask, which are eye pads that can be easily heated up in your microwave oven, and then placed on your eyelids. This spa-like heat compress is both washable and reusable.
In an effort to further reduce the blepharitis symptoms I experience, I also use an eyelid scrub. The specific brand I use is called OCuSoft Lid Scrub, and it comes in a variety of types, from regular wipes to a ‘plus’ formula for those with extra sensitive eyes. The lid scrub helps to remove any debris stuck in my eyelids and eyelashes, which helps to further decrease the swelling and irritation that I experience as a Sjogren’s patient.
If you don’t like using individual wipes, OCuSoft also offers a pump option so that you can pump the eyelid scrub directly into your hand and wash your eyes with it. This makes it easy to incorporate into your daily wash-and-go routine.
The next must-have item for dry eye patients is a humidifier. A humidifier is an indoor device that releases a humidifying mist into the air, to help increase the moisture levels in your immediate environment. To tell you the truth, I didn’t know humidifiers existed until I moved to the Southwest United States – here in the desert-like climate, everyone seems to have one!
Humidifiers are great because they don’t involve applying something directly to your eyes. They’re also easy to refill with water, and you can buy a large one for a big room, or a smaller one that sits on your desk for your home office or bedside table. Plus, you don’t need to leave it on all day long – I find just running my humidifier for 20 minutes makes my immediate space comfortable enough that I don’t need to use it for the rest of the day. Some patients find that turning on their humidifier at night helps them to sleep comfortably, since eyes tend to be drier at night, when your tear glands decrease tear production while you’re asleep.
While the exact effects of vitamins and minerals on eye health are up for debate, many years ago, my optometrist at the time did recommend taking omega-3 fish oil supplements daily for my eye health. He explained to me that while dry eye is often a tear production issue, it could also be a tear evaporation issue. This is because another component of healthy tears is having a sufficient high-quality oil, called meibum, in the water layer of your eye’s surface to prevent your tears from evaporating too quickly.
Based on his recommendation, I take omega-3 supplements derived from fish oil. The supplements are over-the-counter rapid release soft gels from my local pharmacy- nothing too fancy, but they do the job!
Beyond using these five products, there are other initiatives I’m taking to reduce my dry eyes; for example, I’m getting the punctal plugs re-inserted into my tear ducts next month (after one fell out). However, these five products alone have made a big difference in improving my quality of life with Sjogren’s Syndrome and dry eye disease, and I hope that they work for you too.
Remember, always talk to your doctor before beginning a new medication, regimen, or treatment plan. Please read Autoimmune Warrior’s product recommendations disclaimer on our About Us page regarding our participation in Amazon’s Associates Program.
Last year, I switched health insurance plans, and as a result, the dermatologist that I was seeing to treat my hidradenitis suppurativa (HS) was no longer in-network. So, I had to find a new physician. I found a new dermatologist in my area that was covered under my health insurance plan, so I made an appointment and saw her for the first time last week.
My last physician – who diagnosed me with this chronic autoimmune skin condition – had been treating my hidradenitis by giving me cortisone (steroid) injections. While this was effective to control the inflammation and pain caused by my HS boils, it wasn’t really a long-term solution. I had also been prescribed clindamycin lotion to put on my hidradenitis lesions after showering, and over-the-counter Hibiclens, a wash that medical staff use to ‘scrub in’ in order to prevent any infections from occurring. However, neither of these topical solutions have gotten rid of my HS boils.
My new dermatologist was very caring, and didn’t rush me at all. She suggested that I use a new topical solution called resorcinol. Resorcinol is not covered by my health insurance, since it’s not made by a typical pharmacy, but rather, a compounding facility. While this is a downside, I did some research about the medication, and according to the Journal of the American Academy for Dermatology (JAAD), a 2010 study found that when patients with Hurley stage I or II HS used topical 15% resorcinol twice daily for 30 days, they saw a ‘marked decrease in pain and mean duration of the lesions’.
Below are the side-by-side results from the study. The first left-side image (A) is the patient’s baseline state, the second (B) is seven days into treatment, and the third image (C) is 30 days into the treatment. The right-side images (D, E, and F) are the respective lesions shown via ultrasonography.
Beyond the resorcinol, I spoke with my dermatologist about a medication called spironolactone for hidradenitis suppurativa treatment. Spironolactone is commonly used to treat acne and other similar skin disorders. Although HS is sometimes referred to as ‘acne inversa’, anyone with the condition knows that it’s not acne – not even close! That being said, HS may be similar to acne in the sense that it may be affected by hormones. Plus, a 2017 study of 46 women with HS found that acne and polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) were the most commonly reported comorbidities with hidradenitis. The same study found that spironolactone was effective, even in small doses, for managing patients’ pain and inflammatory lesions.
Though I haven’t decided whether or not to move forward with spironolactone treatment yet, I thought it was interesting that there was a potential connection between HS and hormones, especially since I myself have adult acne and have had multiple ovarian cysts in the past. Plus, I have Sjogren’s Syndrome, an autoimmune disease that may also have a hormonal component. I do notice that my hidradenitis boils do worsen on a pre-menstrual basis.
I also discussed with my dermatologist getting laser hair removal in the areas most commonly affected by HS – the groin and underarms. She did say that laser hair removal does help with the follicular occlusion aspect of the disease. Obviously, there are drawbacks – for example, laser hair removal is almost impossible to do in patients with Hurley stage III of the disease, because it’s simply too painful. It’s also not usually covered by insurance, since it’s considered a cosmetic procedure, rather than a medical one. But, it’s another option that I want to consider since I’m still at stage I of the disease, and would rather have laser hair removal than wide-excision surgery.
Do you have hidradenitis suppurativa? If so, what treatments have been most effective for you? Let me know in the comments below!
Legendary singer and songwriter Toni Braxton sat down with publication The Grioto detail her ongoing battle with systemic lupus erythematosus, known as lupus for short. The seven-time Grammy award winner was diagnosed with the autoimmune disease in 2008, after she suffered a heart attack on stage during a live performance in Las Vegas.
“The doctors told me I could never perform again. I have systemic lupus. My lupus loves my heart. It loves my microvascular system. It loves my blood, so I get blood clots,” she explained. “The chronic pain and fatigue associated with it were overwhelming for me initially.”
The autoimmune condition affects more than 5 million people worldwide, including 1.5 million Americans. Lupus is known to affect the body’s major organs, including the heart, lungs, skin and more. Beyond the physical symptoms, however, Braxton said the disease took a toll on her mental health too.
“When I was first diagnosed, I felt that I had no one to help me,” she said. Braxton continued, “I always tried to be vocal and educate people. I remember being afraid and I don’t want anyone to feel that feeling I had.”
Though the condition initially caused her to pause her career, Braxton found relief with CBD, the compound found in medical marijuana, with helping to manage her chronic pain.
“I found that Uncle Bud’s doesn’t have THC, the stuff that makes you high. More importantly, with my body being inflamed and so on, it offers anti-inflammatory properties and for me, I need that.” She continued, “It can change your life because sometimes you just need hope. I’m so glad they finally made it legal. It’s a great thing because of the healing properties for people like myself.”
As for her advice on how to cope with having lupus, Braxton commented: “It’s not your fault. It’s nothing you did. It’s just what it is. It’s just what your body is or has become. There’s nothing you could have done to change it.”
Since her lupus symptoms have improved, she has returned to singing and has released a new album, Spell My Name in August 2020. She’s also been busy filming the reality TV series, Braxton Family Values.
Australian couple Marcia Ferguson-Roa and her husband, Kris Ferguson, enjoyed spending their time sailing in their dream yacht. But in October of 2020, Marcia began to experience a myriad of strange symptoms that wouldn’t go away, and that kept her from her beloved pastime of sailing.
She experienced more fatigue than usual, and had a persistent dry cough. She also had ulcerating marks appear on her forehead and other parts of her body. Doctors weren’t able to determine what was wrong, until Marcia ended up in the hospital a month later.
That’s when she was diagnosed with a rare autoimmune disease called dermatomyositis (DM). Dermatomyositis is rare, affecting just nine in 1 million people worldwide. The specific type of dermatomyositis that Marcia had, however, was even less common; named MDA5 antibody positive dermatomyositis, it is more life-threatening than other forms of DM, since it affects the lungs. Only 5% of those with DM have this particular variation, making it extremely challenging to diagnose.
Myositis is a group of autoimmune disorders that cause muscle inflammation, and dermatomyositis also affects the skin. The Myositis Association Australia states that 1 in 200,000 people have some form of myositis. Unfortunately, some of the symptoms, such as muscle weakness and fatigue, are often overlooked as just the normal signs of aging, Christine Lowe, the Association’s President said.
Unfortunately, though Marcia fought hard against her disease, her condition worsened and doctors were forced to put her in a medically-induced coma. She never woke up, and one week later, she was pronounced dead. Her husband Kris was devastated to learn of her passing after almost 40 years of marriage.
“I told her I loved her and that we would talk tomorrow,” he said. “There was no tomorrow.”
Dr. Girgis, the head of rheumatology at St. Vincent’s hospital where Marcia was hospitalized, said more research dedicated to autoimmune diseases is necessary to find the root cause of why the body attacks its own tissues.
Interestingly enough, another man named Abu Jalil was treated for the same rare variation of dermatomyositis that Marcia had at the same hospital in Australia. When the local paper published a story about Abu’s plight, the community raised over $180,000 for his expensive treatment and medications, which aren’t covered by the country’s National Benefits Scheme. Thankfully, Abu’s condition is improving.
To learn more about Marcia’s battle with dermatomyositis, read the full article in the Sydney Morning Herald.
Thanks for stopping by Autoimmune Warrior! If you enjoyed this article, check out our other articles below:
Shelley Clark-Collins, a 56-year-old woman from Saint John, New Brunswick, Canada, is looking to undergo a high-risk procedure to treat her rare autoimmune disease.
Clark-Collins lives with dermatomyositis, an autoimmune condition in which her body’s own immune system mistakenly attacks her healthy cells, causing inflammatory, painful and degenerative changes to her skin and muscles. According to Johns Hopkins Medicine, symptoms of the disease include rashes and spotting on the skin, swelling, stiff joints, muscle weakness and aches, difficulty swallowing, voice changes, fatigue, fever, and weight loss. Dermatomyositis can also cause other autoimmune and connective disease conditions, like lupus, and increase the risk of developing cancer.
Dermatomyositis is extremely rare, affecting fewer than 10 in 1 million people, according to an estimate from the National Organization for Rare Disorders (NORD). The disease most often occurs in adults ages 40-60, and juvenile dermatomyositis occurs most commonly in children and youth between the ages of 5 and 15.
Because of its rarity, Clark-Collins had a difficult time getting diagnosed. As a hairdresser, she suddenly found that she was so weak, she could no longer hold up a blow dryer or stand for long periods of time. She was falling down frequently, couldn’t get out of the bathtub, or lift her bed sheets. She was later diagnosed with multiple sclerosis (MS) after a neurologist found a lesion in her brain.
“But what he was treating me with [for MS] wasn’t working,” explained Clark-Collins. After seeing numerous specialists, she was diagnosed with “everything but the kitchen sink,” she recalls, including cancer, arthritis, and Grave’s disease. A dermatologist even told her that she should see a psychiatrist for Empty Nest Syndrome as a result of her kids moving out.
Despite these setbacks, Clark-Collins was eventually correctly diagnosed with dermatomyositis through blood work and muscle biopsies. Since then, the disease has affected her health and wellbeing substantially. Prior to developing the disease, she was an avid marathon runner and outdoor enthusiast, enjoying kayaking, rock climbing, and skiing. Now, she says that walking to her car is a feat. She sleeps in a chair because getting in and out of bed is too difficult with her muscle weakness. She has difficulty swallowing and talking, and has suffered irreparable damage to her heart and lungs. She’s had a stroke, blood clots, and a life-threatening sepsis infection.
However, Clark-Collins has found hope in a new procedure being pioneered by Ottawa, Ontario-based Dr. Harold Atkins. The innovative procedure is a combination of intense chemotherapy and a blood stem cell transplant. The chemotherapy will destroy her diseased immune system, and the stem cells from her bone marrow will be removed, purified and re-injected into her body. It’s a risky and aggressive procedure that aims to reset her immune system – but there are no guarantees that it will work. With the COVID-19 pandemic still raging, re-setting her immune system also leaves her extremely vulnerable to contagious diseases, meaning she could easily die should she catch the virus.
Despite the risks, Clark-Collins says she’s “very excited,” and is looking forward to the possibility of reclaiming her life. As a mother of two adult children, she says “it’s been hard on [my kids] to watch me decline like that.”
Plus, she’s running out of options. She has developed a resistance to several of her medications already, she can’t take large doses of steroids for much longer, and her opioid painkiller can cause an addiction. She also goes to the hospital once a week for plasmapheresis, a procedure in which her plasma (the liquid part of the blood) is separated from her blood cells, and is replaced with new plasma. But this treatment isn’t guaranteed to work forever.
With this new treatment, the hope is that her dermatomyositis will go into remission. Clark-Collins says she dreams of being able to regain her independence, start running again, and just to be able to hug her children without excruciating pain.
“Just maybe [I’ll] get a little big of my life back,” she said hopefully.
Did you know that April is Sjogren’s Awareness Month? That’s right, according to the Sjogren’s Foundation, April was declared Sjogren’s Awareness Month in 1988 when New York Congresswoman Louise Slaughter read it into the Congressional Record.
The 2021 theme for this awareness campaign is Coming Together to Conquer Sjogren’s. When you post on social media or other digital platforms about Sjogren’s, use the hashtag #ThisIsSjogrens to highlight your personal experience as part of the campaign. The purpose of the campaign is to raise awareness about the complexities of the disease, and provide a voice to the 3 million+ Americans (and many more worldwide) who live with it every day.
As April is fast approaching, I wanted to share my personal #ThisIsSjogrens submission with the Autoimmune Warrior blog followers. Read my submission, below!
Current age: 28
Age when diagnosed: 20
Please finish with the following sentence: “Since I was diagnosed with Sjögren’s, I have learned…” Since I was diagnosed with Sjogren’s, I have learned how important self-care is. Although you can’t let the disease rule your life, you must also learn to listen to your body and take the needed time to rest and recharge.
What are your 3 most difficult symptoms? My three most difficult symptoms are eye dryness, mouth dryness and joint pain, although I also experience fatigue, brain fog and peripheral neuropathy.
What are ways that you cope with your most difficult symptoms? For eye dryness, I use artificial tears eye drops several times a day, and I also take prescription eye drops to reduce inflammation in my tear glands. I also had punctal plugs inserted in my tear ducts to increase my tear retention. For mouth dryness, I use artificial saliva and take pilocarpine, a medication that stimulates saliva production, and I drink plenty of water throughout the day. For joint pain, I take a prescription medication that reduces inflammation and pain in my joints.
What is one of the ways that you’ve been able to effectively cope with symptoms during this past year in the pandemic? During the past year of the pandemic, I have taken more time to rest which is helping to reduce my fatigue levels. Also, since I now work from home, I’m able to use a humidifier to humidify my home office environment, which helps with my dryness symptoms.
What is the best tip you would share with another Sjögren’s patient? If I had to give a tip to another Sjogren’s patient, I would say to find a team of medical professionals who are familiar with the disease. Many medical professionals think that Sjogren’s is just dry eyes and dry mouth, and don’t realize that there is a lot more to the condition and the other symptoms it can cause.
How does the Sjögren’s community and the Foundation give you strength? The Sjogren’s community and Foundation help to connect me with others who have the disease, so I can build a community around me of other patients who understand what I’m going through.
What do you wish people understood about Sjögren’s and how it affects you? I wish people understood how much having a chronic illness like Sjogren’s impacts my health and day-to-day wellbeing. I might not be able to do things that I once could due to this disease, but I won’t let that stop me from achieving my personal and professional goals.
According to the American Autoimmune & Related Diseases Association (AARDA), March is officially Autoimmune Disease Awareness Month (ADAM)! During this month, the organization works to raise awareness about autoimmune diseases among the general public. With increased awareness about autoimmune diseases, the AARDA says that they will be able to secure more funding for medical research, new treatment options, and improved patient diagnostics.
According to the AARDA, there are over 100 known autoimmune diseases, which are responsible for causing widespread chronic illness and pain. While many individuals have heard of at least one autoimmune disease, like rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, multiple sclerosis, type 1 diabetes, or Crohn’s disease, few members of the general public know that these conditions are autoimmune in nature, and all stem from the commonality of an overactive immune system.
There is also widespread misinformation about the term ‘autoimmune’. I once read on the Reddit forum r/autoimmune about a woman who, during a doctor’s appointment, told a nurse that she had an autoimmune disease. The nurse thought that this meant that the patient had HIV/AIDS, which is not an autoimmune disease, but rather an immunodeficiency caused by a virus. These misconceptions about autoimmune disease are another reason why it’s important to raise awareness and educate the public – and even healthcare professionals – about this cause.
While the exact number of autoimmune disease patients is unknown, it’s estimated that autoimmune conditions impact over 24 million Americans. An additional 8 million Americans have auto-antibodies, blood molecules that may predispose them to developing an autoimmune disease in the future. This isn’t counting the many individuals who go undiagnosed as a result of their symptoms being dismissed, a misdiagnosis, or due to their healthcare provider lacking knowledge about autoimmune disease.
Autoimmune diseases are also a leading cause of death and disability. Dr. Anthony Fauci, a leading allergy and disease expert, estimated back in 2001 that autoimmune disease treatment costs in the US exceeded $100 billion annually. While this may seem like a staggering figure, it’s possible that the true cost is much higher, since, as noted above, many individuals go undiagnosed or are misdiagnosed, and new autoimmune diseases are being discovered with each passing year. Furthermore, a more recent 2020 study showed that the incidence of autoimmune disease is on the rise in the US – so these cost figures (which are now 20 years old), are most likely continuing to increase.
The fact that autoimmune diseases pose an extreme burden on our healthcare system is just another reason that it’s important for the general public to be educated about these conditions, and why more resources need to be dedicated towards research and finding a cure.
So what can you do to help? If you or someone you love has an autoimmune disease, consider raising awareness (with the patient’s permission, of course), by posting about it on social media with the hashtag #ADAM for Autoimmune Disease Awareness Month. By sharing your story or the stories of others, you can raise awareness and be a voice for the millions of people suffering from autoimmune diseases worldwide.
Thanks for reading our blog! For autoimmune disease news and blog articles delivered straight to your inbox, consider subscribing to our mailing list.
An Australian study has found a potential link between autoimmune disease and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
The study took place over a decade, from 2000 to 2010, following more than 63,000 children born at full-term in New South Wales, Australia. Study author Timothy Nielsen, a PhD candidate at the University of Sydney, said that they were able to identify 12,610 mothers who had one or more of 35 common autoimmune diseases, such as type 1 diabetes, celiac disease, Crohn’s, psoriasis, multiple sclerosis, lupus, Sjogren’s or rheumatoid arthritis, to name a few. The children were identified as having a diagnosis of ADHD, or a prescription for stimulants.
The study also included a meta-analysis of existing research on this topic. The combined results of the longitudinal study and the meta-analysis found that when the mother had a diagnosis of any autoimmune disease, [this was] associated with a higher risk of ADHD in their child at later ages.
While researchers don’t know the exact reason why women with autoimmune disorders are more likely to have children with ADHD, researchers do have a hypothesis. It’s believed that maternal autoantibodies, which attack the mother’s own tissues, cross the placenta into the unborn fetus during pregnancy. Inflammatory molecules, therefore, could potentially do the same. These molecules could, in turn, alter fetal brain development, either by altering epigenetic markers, which turn certain genes on or off, or by impacting the function and formation of synapses, which allow nerve cells to communicate.
Nielsen explained, “These changes may lead directly to ADHD symptoms, or they may make the child more vulnerable to environmental risk factors.” He continued, “Our team is currently working on research into the causal mechanisms that underlie the association between autoimmune disease and ADHD, which may shed light on whether the severity of disease, symptoms, use of medications or other inflammatory factors modifies the risk of ADHD.”
This is the first study that explores the correlation between maternal autoimmune disease and the risk of ADHD in children. Other research has shown a link between autoimmune disease in mothers and other neurodevelopmental disorders, such as autism, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), tics and Tourette’s syndrome.
60-year-old Cealie Lawrence was working as a server at a local restaurant in the Columbus, Ohio area when she experienced a sudden change in her vision.
“I couldn’t see anything but darkness and a little light,” Lawrence said. “I panicked.”
Essentially blind in both eyes, she was taken by her co-worker to a local hospital where healthcare workers ran numerous tests on her, including a spinal tap. Unfortunately, the cause of her sudden blindness couldn’t be found – so she spent a week in hospital.
Lawrence was eventually diagnosed with neuromyelitis optica spectrum disorder (NMOSD), a chronic autoimmune disease in which the body’s own immune system attacks the optic nerves, spinal cord, and the brain. The condition can lead to blindness and even paralysis. It is also known as neuromyelitis optica (NMO) and Devic’s disease.
Dr. Geoffrey Eubank, Medical Director of the Mid-Ohio MS Center at OhioHealth Neurological Physicians, stated, “We know how bad [neuromyelitis optica] can be. We know it can put people in wheelchairs, make them blind, really impact them…This is a disease that frightens us.”
According to the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, there are an estimated 4,000 people living with NMOSD in the United States, and 250,000 living with the condition worldwide. Neuromyelitis optica is similar to multiple sclerosis (MS), since it’s also an autoimmune disease that impacts the central nervous system and disrupts the flow of information between the body an the brain, leading to permanent damage and deterioration of the nerves.
Eighty percent of those diagnosed with NMO are women. It occurs most commonly between the ages of 40 and 50, however, it’s been discovered in children as young as 3 and adults as old as 90. Research has found that demyelinating diseases are more common among certain populations, such as Africans, Asians and Native Americans.
As for Lawrence, her eyesight did slowly return after her stay in hospital, but she started suffering paralysis from the neck down months later. She then started physical and occupational therapy, which eventually allowed her to walk again. Despite this win, Lawrence’s NMO continued to relapse, and over a period of seven years, she made over 100 hospital visits.
“It was really bad,” she said, noting that the symptoms of her chronic illness were so debilitating, that they caused her to move in with her son Robert for help.
Five years ago, however, Lawrence found a ray of hope; she was enrolled in a clinical trial at OhioHealth for a new drug called Enspryng, a promising treatment for NMOSD, that’s been shown to reduce attacks of the disease. Since receiving the treatment, Lawrence says she hasn’t experienced a single NMO relapse.
“It’s a miracle,” she said of the drug Enspryng, which was officially approved by the US Food and Drug Administration in August 2020 for the treatment of NMOSD. This makes the drug the third approved treatment for the disorder, in addition to Soliris, which was approved in June 2019, and Uplizna, approved in June 2020.
“Thank God for the development of this medication because I truly believe it’s going to help a lot of people in my situation,” she said. “This is my second chance at life and [to live] more abundantly.”
Lawrence has since been able to move out of her son’s place and is now living independently.
“I was just existing before. I take care of me now,” she said proudly, noting that she is now enjoying her passion for cooking, playing with her grandchildren, and is even going back to school to pursue a degree in counseling.
“That’s a passion of mine because a lot of individuals, especially my age, that are suffering in silence,” she said. “I believe I could be a big influence and a big help to them.”
Lawrence credits her recovery to having a determined attitude and her faith in God.
“If I didn’t have God in my life, I truly feel that I wouldn’t be here right now,” she explained. “I had faith all along that even when I was paralyzed, lying in that hospital bed on my back, not being able to feed myself or do anything for myself…I maintained that I was not going to be flat on my back for the rest of my life.”
To learn more about Lawrence’s remarkable journey with NMO, read her full story in The Columbus Dispatch.
As the COVID-19 vaccine rolls out across the nation, many members of the public are wondering if getting vaccinated against the coronavirus is right for them. More specifically, those with autoimmune disorders, a disease class in which one’s own immune system mistakenly attacks the body’s own tissues, wonder if they are candidates for the COVID-19 vaccine.
Dr. Shafinaz Akhter, Physician at Chester County Hospital in Philadelphia, PA, states, “Our advice has always been that there is no harm to getting it. It is very unlikely that you’re going to have an adverse reaction or worsening symptoms from your underlying disease based upon receiving the vaccination.” For this reason, she says that at her hospital, they are recommending that anyone with an autoimmune disease, such as lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, or Crohn’s, get vaccinated.
Furthermore, Dr. Akhter adds that many autoimmune disease patients take immunosuppressants or other immune-modulating prescription drugs, which are medications designed to decrease immune system overactivity and the damaging inflammation that comes along with it. These medications may reduce the vaccine’s ability to stimulate your body to mount an immune response against the virus. For this reason, it’s important to speak with your healthcare provider regarding the timing of when you take your medications and when you receive the COVID-19 vaccine. Examples of such medications include methotrexate or rituximab.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, the country’s top infectious disease expert, weighed in on the subject, stating, “It is clear that if you are on immunosuppressant agents, history tells us that you are not going to have as robust a response as if you had an intact immune system that was not being compromised. But some degree of immunity is better than no degree of immunity. So, for me, it would be recommended that these people do get vaccinated.”
The CDC, for its part, has stated that those with autoimmune conditions may receive the COVID-19 vaccine, while also acknowledging that no data currently exists with regards to the safety of these vaccines for autoimmune disease patients.
The CDC adds that it is expected that the risk of the COVID vaccine for autoimmune disease patients to be minimal, based on the vaccine’s mechanism of action. This is because none of the COVID vaccines use a live virus, nor do they include an adjuvant, which is a substance that enhances the body’s immune response to an antigen. Finally, none of the available vaccines become incorporated in your own genetic material (i.e. DNA), since they are mRNA vaccines.
As with any new medical treatment, it’s encouraged to speak with your healthcare provider before making a decision on whether or not to get the vaccine, so that they can advise you based on your specific situation. To learn more about the COVID-19 vaccines, visit the CDC website.
Are you planning to get the COVID-19 vaccine? Let us know in the comments below!
According to the Scleroderma Foundation, scleroderma is a chronic connective tissue disease, and is generally classified as a rheumatic autoimmune disease. In patients with scleroderma, the body over-produces collagen, reacting as if there were an injury needing repair. This over-production of collagen prevents various organs in the body from functioning normally.
While this condition is poorly understood, there is some information about the disease that we do know. Read on to learn 10 facts about scleroderma.
1. Scleroderma is more common than you think
It’s estimated that 300,000 Americans live with scleroderma. Of these 300,000 patients, approximately 1/3 live with the systemic form of the disease. However, it’s possible that the number of scleroderma patients is actually much higher, since diagnosing this skin condition can be difficult, as the disorder bears a lot of similarities to other autoimmune diseases, such as polymyositis.
2. Localized scleroderma is the first main type
The two main types of scleroderma are localized and systemic. With localized scleroderma, symptoms such as skin thickening and collagen overproduction are limited to a few places on the skin or muscles, and internal organs are usually not affected. In general, localized scleroderma is relatively mild and rarely develops into systemic scleroderma.
Morphea and linear scleroderma are two sub-classifications of this form of the disease, which appear as patches or streaks on the skin, respectively.
3. Systemic scleroderma is the second main type
In contrast to localized scleroderma, systemic scleroderma affects the connective tissue in many parts of the body, including the skin, esophagus, gastrointestinal tract (stomach and bowels), lungs, kidneys, heart, and other internal organs. It can even impact blood vessels, muscles, and joints. These tissues become hard and fibrous, which decreases their function.
There are two sub-classifications of systemic scleroderma – diffuse and limited. Diffuse scleroderma results in a rapid skin thickening across a larger portion of the skin. Patients with this form of the disease have more internal organ involvement as well. Conversely, limited scleroderma occurs when the skin thickening is less widespread, and is usually confined to the fingers, hands and face. It tends to develop slowly over time.
4. Limited scleroderma is also called CREST syndrome
Limited scleroderma is sometimes referred to as CREST syndrome, an acronym which stands for the different symptoms this condition causes:
Calcinosis – an accumulation of calcium deposits under the skin, which may cause pain
Raynaud’s – a phenomenon in which small arteries that supply blood to the skin constrict excessively in response to cold, limiting blood supply to one’s fingers and toes and changing their color
Esophageal dysfunction – a stiffening of the gastrointestinal tract muscles, resulting in reflux and indigestion
Sclerodactyly – the hardening of the skin on one’s fingers and/or toes
Telangiectasias – round, red spots on the skin’s surface as a result of widened small blood vessels
5. Scleroderma can affect one’s lungs
Pulmonary symptoms can occur in patients with systemic scleroderma. For example, patients may develop pulmonary hypertension, a condition in which the lung’s blood vessels narrow, which results in impaired blood flow in the lungs. This, in turn, causes shortness of breath.
6. Your gender, age, ethnicity and genetics may play a role
Scleroderma affects women up to three to four times more frequently than their male counterparts. According to the Mayo Clinic, the condition most commonly occurs between the ages of 30 and 50, although children can also develop the disease. One’s ethnic background may also influence the risk of developing the disease, the age of onset, and the severity of one’s symptoms. Although it’s believed that genetics play a role in the development of scleroderma, genetic factors are thought to only predispose a person to the disease, rather than cause it.
7. Other autoimmune issues may co-occur
Since scleroderma is an autoimmune disease, it may occur in conjunction with other autoimmune issues. According to the Mayo Clinic, between 15-20% of scleroderma patients have another autoimmune disease, such as rheumatoid arthritis, lupus or Sjogren’s syndrome. This is why it’s important for patients to get evaluated for other potential co-morbidities as well.
8. There is no cure, but treatments do exist
While there is no known cure for scleroderma, treatment options do exist to help patients manage their symptoms and to prevent further complications of the disease. For example, your doctor may prescribe steroids to help you cope with skin symptoms. Blood pressure medications may also be used to treat Raynaud’s phenomenon. Anti-acids and antibiotics can help reduce digestive issues and prevent infections. Immunosuppressants may be prescribed to reduce overactivity of your immune system and to decrease damaging inflammation. And finally, pain medications may also be used to decrease pain if over-the-counter pain medications aren’t effective enough.
9. Surgery may be necessary
In extreme cases, surgery may be required for certain scleroderma patients. For example, patients with severe Raynaud’s phenomenon in their fingers or toes may have tissues that die off or develop painful sores; consequently, amputation of these tissues may be required. Also, in patients with heavy lung involvement, a lung transplant may be necessary to help the patient breathe.
10. Scleroderma support groups are here to help
The Scleroderma Foundation offers numerous local chapters and support groups, designed to help patients connect with others living with the disease. These support groups provide a forum to share feelings, concerns, information with others, and act as a place to offer peer support and encouragement. To find your local support group in the US, visit the scleroderma chapter locator.
Do you or someone you love suffer from scleroderma? What has been your experience living with the disease? Let us know in the comments below!
According to the National Organization for Rare Disease, Congenital Heart Block, or CHB for short, is the interference of the transfer of electric nerve impulses that regulate the pumping of the heart muscle.
As long as electrical impulses are transmitted normally between the heart’s chambers – the atria and the ventricles – the heart contracts normally, allowing for blood to be pumped throughout the body. If the transmission of the signal is impeded, the blocked electrical transmission is known as heart block, or atrioventricular (AV) block.
Though heart block can happen to anyone of any age, it is called congenital heart block if it occurs in a fetus or newborn up to 28 days old.
Why Does CHB Occur in Children Born to Women with Autoimmune Disease?
Autoimmune-associated CHB has been found in a variety of maternal autoimmune disorders, including Sjogren’s syndrome, systemic lupus erythematosus, rheumatoid arthritis, antiphospholipid syndrome (APS), mixed connective tissue disorders, and undifferentiated connective tissue disease.
It is believed that CHB may result when maternal antibodies cross the placenta, enter the fetus, and attack the fetal cardiac conduction system. The antibodies that were originally produced by the mother’s body to fight infections mistakenly recognize parts of the fetal heart’s conduction system as foreign; for this reason, the immune system attacks and damages the tissues, resulting in inflammation and scarring, which in turn leads to faulty conduction.
What Is the Risk of Congenital Heart Block if I Have an Autoimmune Disease?
A 2017 study conducted by Chinese medical professionals Kai-Yu Zhou and Yi-Min Hua of the West China Second University Hospital, Department of Pediatric Cardiology, revealed that more than half of CHB cases (between 60 and 90%) are associated with maternal autoimmune disease.
Among the general population, CHB occurs in 1 out of every 20,000 live births – an incidence of only 0.00005%. The study found that autoimmune-associated CHB, however, occurs at much more frequent rates, affecting between 2–5% pregnancies with positive anti-Ro/SSA and La/SSB antibodies. The study also found that when a woman had a child with CHB, the recurrence rate of CHB was 12–25% for a subsequent pregnancy.
Mortality Rate & Treatment for Congenital Heart Block
If CHB is detected in utero by a fetal electrocardiography (ECG) and echocardiography, your OB/GYN may prescribe an adrenocorticosteroid such as dexamethasone, which works to decrease inflammation and the number of circulating maternal antibodies in the fetus.
Once born, other studies have shown that between that 64 and 70% of CHB survivors require surgery to permanently implant a pacemaker, a medical device which stimulates the heart to contract so that it can pump blood.
How to Prevent Congenital Heart Block
A 2016 report by the American College of Rheumatology states that there are no official guidelines about the prevention, screening, and treatment of CHB due to maternal Ro antibodies.
However, in the same report, it was stated that in a survey of 330 women with autoimmune conditions, 67% were told by their rheumatologists to use hydroxychloroquine (also known as Plaquenil) to prevent CHB. In addition, 62% were told to start the drug prior to pregnancy, in order to prevent the condition from developing.
Did you know that autoimmune disease can cause debilitating nerve pain and other nervous system difficulties?
Many medical professionals are unaware that autoimmune conditions can cause a variety of neurological symptoms, or neuropathies, in patients. Though it is commonly known that autoimmune diseases are responsible for joint pain and other kinds of inflammation, nerve pain is often overlooked.
According to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, peripheral neuropathy refers to conditions that involve damage to the peripheral nervous system, which is the vast communication network that sends signals between the central nervous system (the brain and spinal cord) and other parts of the body. Research has shown that over 20 million Americans suffer from some form of peripheral neuropathy, of which there are over 100 known unique types!
How can autoimmune disease cause peripheral neuropathy?
Systemic autoimmune diseases that impact the entire body can cause peripheral neuropathy because of the impact these diseases have on one’s nerves. Conditions like Type 1 diabetes, lupus, Sjogren’s syndrome, and rheumatoid arthritis can all cause nerves to become compressed or entrapped as a result of inflamed surrounding tissues.
Some autoimmune diseases aren’t systemic, or body-wide, but rather, target the nervous system directly. For example, in autoimmune conditions like Guillain-Barre, multiple sclerosis (MS) and chronic inflammatory demyelinating polyneuropathy (CIDP), the immune system may go after the motor nerves, motor fibers, or the myelin sheath coating the nerves. In other instances, the small fibers are attacked, resulting in ongoing chronic pain.
How does peripheral neuropathy manifest?
Peripheral neuropathies can manifest for different people in different ways. For example, rather than a sharp, jabbing, throbbing pain, for some patients it may feel more like prickling, tingling, burning, numbness, or even a complete loss of sensation.
According to the Mayo Clinic, peripheral neuropathy can also make you feel like you’re having a sensation that you’re not; for example, feeling like you’re wearing gloves or socks when you’re not. Peripheral neuropathies can also cause you to feel pain for activities that you know shouldn’t cause pain, such as pain in your feet after they’re underneath a blanket.
What you can do about your autoimmune nerve pain
If you have autoimmune nerve pain, don’t suffer in silence. Talk to your primary care physician and see if they can refer you to a neurologist or chronic pain specialist. From there, your physician can help put together a treatment plan to ease your pain.
I have Sjogren’s syndrome and for a period of 7+ years, chronic pain was a regular part of my life. My rheumatologist prescribed me all kinds of joint pain medications, from plaquenil (generic name: hydroxychloroquine) an anti-malarial drug, to prescription-strength nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), steroid medications, and even chemotherapies! It wasn’t until my pain was identified as nerve pain, not joint pain, that I was able to switch to a medication that worked to reduce my peripheral neuropathy.
In addition, I worked with a neurologist to determine that I had a co-morbid condition, called benign fasciculation syndrome, which was also contributing to my pain. This is important, because many chronic pain sufferers have co-morbidities, like fibromyalgia, which can increase your pain levels or even be the real driving force behind it.
Beyond medications, your lifestyle is also an important component of reducing your neuropathic pain. Vitamin deficiencies, for example, have been identified as a cause of peripheral neuropathies. This is because certain B vitamins, including vitamins B1, B6 and B12, as well as vitamin E and niacin, are crucial for maintaining nerve health. Since alcoholism can result in serve vitamin deficiencies, avoiding substance abuse is also key.
Exposure to certain toxins or poisonous substances, such as lead and mercury, can also impact your nerves and cause resulting pain. Finally, trauma and pressure on the nerves can cause neuropathies as well, so alleviating pressure on your nerves, such as decreasing repeated motions on the parts of your body experiencing pain, is important.
Do you have an autoimmune condition(s) and suffer from peripheral neuropathy? What do you do to cope with your chronic pain? Let us know in the comments below!
Boston suffers from a rare autoimmune disease called hemophagocytic lymphohistiocytosis, known as HLH for short. According to Cincinnati Children’s Hospital, HLH is a life-threatening autoimmune condition in which the immune system’s T and NK cells become overactive, causing damaging inflammation to the body’s tissues and internal organs. The condition is especially damaging to the liver, brain and bone marrow, where blood is made.
Symptoms of HLH include persistent fevers, rash, enlarged liver and spleen, anemia, low platelets and white blood cells, jaundice, hepatitis, liver failure, respiratory issues, seizures, and altered mental functions. Patients need to undergo blood transfusions, stem cell therapy and a bone marrow transplant, in addition to taking various medications to calm the immune system, including steroids and chemotherapy.
Boston first started experiencing symptoms only a few weeks ago, when he developed a fever, and then his liver and spleen became enlarged. Shortly after, his blood counts started dropping rapidly. This is when he received a bone marrow biopsy, and was diagnosed with HLH. The three-month-old is currently undergoing his first round of chemotherapy while his parents desperately seek a stem cell donor that can save his life. The added challenge, however, is finding a matching stem cell donor that is of mixed ethnicity like him – half-Caucasian and half-Filipino.
His mother, Simone Janetta, spoke to the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC), saying, “We are just begging the community. Anybody who is half-Filipino [and] half-Caucasian, even if you’re any other ethnic minority, just get on the stem cell registry. You could safe a life, just like our son’s.”
Her plea was heard not only by the CBC, but by the Prime Minister of Canada himself, Justin Trudeau, who took to social media to share Boston’s story. “Can you save Boston’s life? There are two ways you can help: If you’re half-Caucasian and half-Filipino, please reach out to Canadian Blood Services and see how you can become a stem cell donor. If you aren’t you can still share this story and spread the word.” The post has received over 23,000 likes and 11,000 shares on Facebook already.
Donors must be between 17-35 years of age, with a preference for males, to reduce post-transplant complications. According to the Canadian Blood Services, only 3.5% of stem cell donors in the database are of mixed ethnic background. Because HLH is believed to be genetic, the donor must be unrelated to Boston as well.
Boston’s father, Rex De Castro, added, “I’m kindly begging anyone with a mixed-race ethnicity to donate their stem cells to help my son survive. The chemotherapy and the steroids [are] a temporary fix, and he needs the stem cell transplant really bad.”
A GoFundMe page has been setup for Boston, which has garnered over $25,000 in donations thus far. The donated funds will be used to relieve some of the monetary stress associated with the De Castro family having to live in hospital, and also, towards the bone marrow match. Many people have posted encouraging words on Boston’s GoFundMe page, urging him and his family to stay strong.
To learn more about HLH, check out this YouTube video by the Cincinnati Children’s Hospital. To read more about Boston De Castro’s story, check out his story on the CBC news website. And, if you know anyone who could potentially be a stem cell match for Boston or other mixed ethnicity patients, please consider sharing this story with them; you could save a life.
Famed singer-songwriter Christopher Cross recently detailed his excruciating battle with COVID-19 in an exclusive interview with CBS.
In the interview, the 69-year-old Grammy winner described his ordeal as ‘the worst 10 days of [his] life,’ saying that he had a number of ‘come to Jesus moments’ where he was left begging for his life from a higher power.
Cross states that in early March, when the pandemic had just struck North America, he and his girlfriend Joy were touring in Mexico City for a concert. Upon their return to the United States, they fell ill and ended up testing positive for COVID-19.
“Nobody knew about masks, or anything like that,” Cross said. “No one wore masks on the plane, no one was doing that. We weren’t made aware that it was a problem.” In total, he and his girlfriend were sick for about three weeks’ time. While Joy continued to get better, Cross got continuously sicker, landing him in the intensive care unit at the hospital for 10 days.
In April, Cross says he finally began to feel better, and ended up going to the supermarket. However, when he returned home, his legs completely gave out. That’s when he was diagnosed with Guillain-Barre Syndrome (GBS), a neurological autoimmune disease which causes the body to attack its own nerves. His doctors believe that he developed Guillain-Barre Syndrome as a direct result of COVID-19.
Describing his COVID-19 and Guillain-Barre diagnosis, Cross says tearfully, “I couldn’t walk, I could barely move. And so, it was certainly the darkest of times for me…It really was touch-and-go, and tough.” He became paralyzed from the waist down, and his hands were paralytic as well; being a professional musician, he was concerned he would never be able to play the guitar again.
Guillain-Barre is one of many devastating effects that have been reported by COVID-19 survivors. Early in the pandemic, disturbing reports came out about multisystem inflammatory syndrome, an autoimmune complication in children who had been affected by the virus. It is thought to be similar to Kawasaki disease, an inflammatory condition affecting the heart’s coronary arteries.
Though Cross himself was only temporarily paralyzed by Guillain-Barre, he reports that he is still feeling the impact of this neurological autoimmune disease now. Initially, he used a wheelchair, and though he no longer needs it, he now relies on a cane as his mobility aid. He also suffers from nerve pain, brain fog, memory loss and issues with his speech.
Last month, Cross shared further details on his Instagram page about his grueling recovery, and paid tribute to the medical staff that helped him during that harrowing time, saying, “I’m grateful for my care team, especially my physical therapist, who has helped me to build strength and walk again.” He continued, “I realize that I am lucky to have survived COVID-19 and be on the mend from GBS. Most of all, I am blessed to have the love and support of many people.”
Though he’s recovered from the coronavirus, and has a 90% to 100% prognosis of making a full recovery from Guillain-Barre, Cross explained that he still wants to share his story to help others. “I felt it was sort of my obligation to share with people: ‘Look, this is a big deal…you’ve got to wear your mask. You’ve got to take care of each other. Because this could happen to you.'”
As part of his healing, Cross is turning to his music, which has always been a source of solace for the singer-songwriter. And, he can’t wait to get back to touring…when it’s safe to do so, of course!