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!

How a 71-year-old man got diagnosed with Autoimmune Encephalitis (AE)

Robert Given was a 71-year-old Accountant who ran his own CPA firm and was heavily involved in his local community. Although he didn’t have any prior history of autoimmune disease, he suddenly found himself impacted by a severe autoimmune condition.

While dining out with friends, Given suddenly slumped over, had a seizure, and urinated on himself. Restaurant patrons helped him to lay on the floor and called an ambulance. By the time the ambulance arrived, he had regained consciousness but was confused, refusing to step into the ambulance until his wife told him to.

After being evaluated by a number of physicians, including an internist and a neurologist, the medical professionals made several interesting discoveries. Given had had a sudden drop in blood pressure that was uncharacteristic for someone with well-controlled high blood pressure like himself. His wife also reported that he was losing his balance, had difficulty sleeping and sometimes had slurred speech. He was also highly talkative, to the point that it appeared to be logorrhea – a constant need to talk, even if the speech is often incoherent and repetitive.

Given had a second seizure, and was once again transported to the hospital. After this second episode, his doctor pondered what condition could possibly cause a sudden onset of both neurological and psychiatric symptoms. He hypothesized that his patient might have either Multiple Sclerosis (MS), or some type of heavy metal toxicity and ordered a round of tests to see if this was the case.

The tests came back negative for MS and heavy metals, and his medical team thought that they had to go back to the drawing board. Suddenly, however, his internist Dr. Hersch realized that he had seen a similar case several years prior; the patient had died, but his test results had revealed that he had autoimmune encephalitis (AE), a group of conditions in which the immune system mistakenly attacks the brain.

Dr. Hersch ordered a new round a tests that confirmed that Robert Given did indeed have a type of autoimmune encephalitis caused by a rogue antibody called CASPR2. Symptoms included fluctuations in blood pressure and heart rate, loss of balance, insomnia, and personality changes, and the majority of patients were men over the age of 65- just like Given!

Given has been receiving treatment for his condition at the Mayo Clinic for the last three years. Due to the difficult nature of this disease, his recovery is slow, but he is relieved to have been diagnosed in time to receive life-saving medication.

The Autoimmune Encephalitis Alliance says that while Given is lucky to have received a diagnosis, their aim is to raise awareness so that others with AE do not have to rely on luck to determine the outcome of the disease.

To read the original story by Dr. Lisa Sanders from the New York Times, click here. Also, check out this trailer for Brain on Fire, a movie based on a real-life story of a woman with AE.

Youth Take On Celiac Disease Through Outreach Program; 7-year-old with Rare Autoimmune Disease Needs Life-saving Bone Marrow; Australian Woman Describes Her Journey with Multiple Sclerosis; Actress Nicole Beharie Exits Show due to Autoimmune Disease; Dallas Cowboys Frontman Tackles Autoimmune Condition and Injuries

Dr. Dale Lee is the Director of the Celiac Disease Program at Seattle Children’s Hospital

Youth Take On Celiac Disease Through Outreach Program

Last month was Celiac Disease Awareness Month. While Celiac is one of the most common autoimmune diseases, experts at the Seattle Children’s Hospital estimate that for every diagnosis, eight cases are overlooked.

As a result, the hospital has put together an outreach program that allows youth with Celiac disease the opportunity to raise awareness, organize support groups, and mentor other youth with the disease.

There are currently 11 youth members on the Celiac Youth Leadership Council (CYLC), and one of their current initiatives is running a gluten-free food drive for a local food bank.

The most common symptoms of Celiac disease include abdominal pain, diarrhea, constipation, weight loss, nausea, and fatigue. Other symptoms include anemia, joint pain, arthritis, osteoporosis, peripheral neuropathy, seizures, canker sores, skin rashes, fatigue, depression and anxiety. In children, the disease can also cause irritability, stunted growth, delayed puberty, and dental damage.

To learn more, click here.

Asaya Bullock (left) pictured here with his sister, is in grave need of a bone marrow match

7-year-old with Rare Autoimmune Disease Needs Life-saving Bone Marrow

Asaya Bullock, a 7-year-old boy from New York, is searching for a donor willing to donate matching bone marrow.

Asaya was born with a rare, life-threatening autoimmune disease called IPEX syndrome. Symptoms include joint pain, body aches, memory loss, fatigue and stomach problems. Doctors said he had two years to live, but, miraculously, he is still alive seven years later.

A bone marrow transplant would greatly help Asaya’s condition; however, since he is of mixed ancestry (part African part Caribbean), finding a matching donor is proving to be a challenge. According to Be the Match, an organization that operates the world’s largest bone marrow registry, the more genetically diverse an individual is, the more difficult it is to find a matching donor.

To learn more about Asaya’s story and how you can join the Be the Match registry, click here.

Monique Bolland describes her harrowing journey living with Multiple Sclerosis (MS)

Australian Woman Describes Her Journey with Multiple Sclerosis

Monique Bolland, 36, from Australia, shares her story living with Multiple Sclerosis (MS).

Bolland was first diagnosed with this incurable autoimmune disease when she was just 22. At the time, she didn’t quite comprehend the severity of her diagnosis.

She says that she first realized how bad her MS symptoms were when she was cutting bread and accidentally cut her hand, but didn’t even notice as a result of the nerve damage and numbness caused by the disease.

MS impacts an estimated 2.5 million people worldwide, and 70% of MS patients are female. Symptoms include impaired motor function, numbness, fatigue, heat sensitivity, optic nerve damage, and more.

Bolland says that living a healthy lifestyle is imperative to managing her MS symptoms. This includes consuming a diet rich in vitamins D, B12 and omega-3 fatty acids, reducing stress and inflammation, and staying active. She also gets monthly injections of Tysabri, an immunosuppressive drug. In addition, she launched a nutrition supplement and health product line called Nuzest with her father, which supports MS research.

To learn more about Bolland’s story, click here.

Actress Nicole Beharie reveals autoimmune disease caused her exit from hit show

Actress Nicole Beharie Exits Show due to Autoimmune Disease

Nicole Beharie, famed actress on Fox’s hit show, Sleepy Hollow, confessed to fans on Instagram that she left the show abruptly as a result of an autoimmune disease she has been keeping secret for the last five years.

Although Beharie didn’t reveal the exact autoimmune condition she has, she states that it caused her to experience skin rashes and fluctuations in her weight. As a result, her character on the show, FBI agent Abby Mills, was killed off in the season 3 finale, allowing her to take a much-needed break for her health.

Beharie says setting boundaries and limitations, as well as changing her diet, were key to improving her physical and mental state.

To read more about her story, click here.

Travis Frederick missed an entire NFL football season as a result of his autoimmune disease

Dallas Cowboys Frontman Tackles Autoimmune Condition and Injuries

Travis Frederick, the Dallas Cowboys’ all-star center, revealed that he suffers from an autoimmune condition called Guillain-Barre syndrome. This caused him to miss playing an entire NFL football season, while a backup played in his place. He also revealed he had two surgeries during this time.

Frederick is now expected to return to the starting lineup this upcoming season. However, since he is still experiencing lingering effects of Guillain-Barre, he is being brought back on to the field slowly.

To learn more about Frederick’s story, click here.