Autoimmune Disease on the Rise in the United States

An April 2020 study published in Arthritis and Rheumatology suggests that autoimmune disease is on the rise in the United States.

In the study, researchers found that the prevalence of the most common biomarkers of autoimmune disease, called antinuclear antibodies (ANAs), is significantly increasing in the U.S. overall as well as among certain populations. These affected populations include:

  • Men
  • Non-Hispanic whites
  • Adolescents
  • Adults 50 year and older

The researchers examined over 14,000 patients ages 12 and up over the course of three time periods spanning 30 years. In this time frame, they discovered that the overall frequency of ANAs in their test subjects went from 11% affected individuals to almost 16% affected. The worst affected population was the adolescent group, who experienced a nearly three-fold increase in ANA rates over the course of the study period.

While the exact cause of autoimmune disease remains unknown, many scientists believe that a combination of genetic and environmental factors is responsible. However, the researchers in the study state that because people have not changed much genetically over the past 30 years, it is more likely that lifestyle or environmental factors are responsible for the ANA increases.

Christine Parks, PhD, is one of the researchers involved in the study who focuses on the environmental causes of rheumatoid arthritis (RA) and other autoimmune diseases. “These new findings…will help us design studies to better understand why some people develop autoimmune diseases,” she said. She also added that there are over 100 chronic, debilitating autoimmune conditions that could stand to benefit from further research.

Donna Jackson Nakazawa, a Maryland-based science journalist and author of the book The Autoimmune Epidemic, believes that our ever-increasing exposure to chemicals, heavy metals, and viruses, coupled with stress, dietary and other lifestyle factors, is primarily to blame for the increase in autoimmune disease. She also points out that there may be a connection between autoimmune disease and allergies, which are also skyrocketing.

Nakazawa herself suffers from Guillain-Barre Syndrome, a paralyzing autoimmune disease similar to multiple sclerosis (MS). In her latest book, The Last Best Cure, she states that experts predict that the number of Americans who suffer from chronic conditions will rise an astonishing 37% by 2030.

While this may not sound like positive news, one good thing is that with an increase in autoimmune disease, more scientists, medical professionals and pharmaceutical companies will be encouraged to undertake research to find treatments and, ultimately, a cure for autoimmunity. I personally am hopeful that we will see enormous strides in biotechnology in my lifetime.

Are you surprised by the increase in autoimmune disease in the U.S.? Let us know in the comments below!

Toddler’s Strep Throat Triggers Neurological Autoimmune Disease

Nate Kenoe, pictured above, developed a frightening autoimmune disease after strep throat

Nate Kenoe was a vibrant, energetic 4-year-old boy. Unfortunately, he had had a string of illnesses, testing positive for strep throat five times over the course of eight months. Each time, it wasn’t immediately clear that Nate had strep throat- oftentimes, he didn’t even have a sore throat! Instead, he presented with less common symptoms, such as bad breath or a sore on his butt. When he would finally get diagnosed with strep throat, he had to take a less effective antibiotic treatment, due to his allergy to penicillin.

Eventually, Nate developed even more disturbing symptoms that weren’t in line with strep throat. He began to have sensory issues, feeling pains in his feet as if he were walking on rocks, experiencing coldness in his shoulders, and other tics. He also had dramatically changed behavior, including vomiting at the sight of food, urinating multiple times an hour and banging his head.

Thankfully, an attentive pediatrician recognized Nate’s symptoms as pediatric autoimmune neuropsychiatric disorder associated with streptococcal infection, known as PANDAS for short. PANDAS is a little-known autoimmune disease primarily occurring in children between the ages of 3 and 12. With this disease, strep throat opens the blood-brain barrier, allowing abnormal immune cells to enter the brain and cause neuro inflammation. It has been compared to autoimmune encephalitis (AE), another autoimmune neuropsychiatric disorder.

The PANDAS network estimates that 1 in 200 children could have PANDAS; however, this autoimmune condition is often under-diagnosed or misdiagnosed due to its similarity with other conditions such as Tourette’s syndrome and Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD). Nate’s own mother, a pediatric nurse, hadn’t even heard of the condition before.

Nate received antibiotics, anti-inflammatory medications and had a surgery to remove his tonsils as a treatment for his PANDAS. As her son received treatment, his mother learned that PANDAS is in fact a controversial disease. Many physicians are skeptical that this autoimmune disease even exists, while others believe that there needs to be a standardized method for diagnosis and treatment.

One year later, Nate is faring much better than last year. However, if he gets sick, such as with a cold or virus, it will trigger another autoimmune ‘flare’ resulting in more sensory issues. Ultimately, Nate’s family hopes that by sharing his story, they can raise awareness about PANDAS, and in turn, help the disease get more research funding.

To learn more about PANDAS and Nate’s story, click here.

Kim Kardashian West Discusses Painful and Scary Autoimmune Diagnosis; J.K. Rowling Donates Millions to Fund Multiple Sclerosis (MS) Research

Kim Kardashian West gets an ultrasound of her hand, leading to a ‘painful and scary’ diagnosis.

Kim Kardashian West Discusses ‘Painful and Scary’ Autoimmune Diagnosis

Celebrity and business mogul Kim Kardashian West discussed her recent autoimmune diagnosis on an episode of Keeping Up with the Kardashians. During the episode, Kardashian West visits a doctor with symptoms including pain, swelling and stiffness in her joints. She already has an autoimmune condition called psoriasis that causes red, flaky and scaly patches to appear on her skin, which she had developed at age 25 after catching a cold. Now, at age 38, she was informed that her psoriasis has morphed into psoriatic arthritis.

According to the National Psoriasis Foundation, 125 million people worldwide suffer from psoriasis. Furthermore, it’s estimated that 1 in 5 individuals with psoriasis will develop psoriatic arthritis in their lifetime.

Kardashian West said that her symptoms, including joint pain in her hands, got so bad that she was unable to even pick up a toothbrush. An initial blood test she took came back as positive for lupus and rheumatoid arthritis, but it was later shown to be a false positive after a review of her symptoms and getting an ultrasound of her hands.

Despite the harrowing diagnosis, Kardashian West is maintaining a positive attitude, saying “It’s still painful and scary, but I was happy to have a diagnosis. No matter what autoimmune condition I had, I was going to get through it, and they are all manageable with proper care.”

The star also bonded with fellow beauty mogul and fashion model Winnie Harlow, who has an autoimmune condition called vitiligo. As she revealed during a recent interview with Jimmy Fallon, Kardashian West spoke to Harlow for over an hour to get her ‘opinion and advice’ on her autoimmune diagnosis.

To learn more about psoriasis and psoriatic arthritis, visit the National Psoriasis Foundation website.

J.K. Rowling has made a multi-million dollar donation to fund MS research, at a clinic named after her late mother

J.K. Rowling Donates Millions to Fund Multiple Sclerosis (MS) Research

J.K. Rowling, renowned author of the Harry Potter book series, has made a generous donation to fund Multiple Sclerosis (MS) research in the U.K.

Her donation, in the amount of 15.3 Million British Pounds (equivalent to $18.8 Million USD), will be used to construct a new facility for the Anne Rowling Clinic at the University of Edinburgh, which is dedicated to MS research.

The Anne Rowling Clinic was established at the Scotland-based university in 2010, when J.K. Rowling had made another generous donation to fund MS research. The clinic was named after her mother, who suffered from MS and passed away due to complications from the disease at the young age of 45.

Rowling has said that she is immensely proud of the work that the clinic has accomplished, and that they are providing “practical, on the ground support and care for people with MS.” The University’s Vice Chancellor, Professor Peter Mathieson, also commented, “We are immensely honored that J. K. Rowling has chosen to continue her support for the Anne Rowling Regenerative Neurology Clinic. This inspiring donation will fund a whole new generation of researchers who are focused on discovering and delivering better treatments and therapies for patients.”

To learn more about the Anne Rowling Clinic and to view a video of their important work, click here.

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