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!

Young Autoimmune Patients Raise Awareness Amid COVID-19 Pandemic

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to spread across the globe, young patients with autoimmune disease and other chronic illnesses are using the hashtag #HighRiskCovid19 to raise awareness about their conditions.

Although many media outlets and government officials have stated that young individuals need not worry about the coronavirus, and that it’s primarily older individuals who are the most at risk, immunocompromised young people are telling their own story. Whether they take immunosuppressants for their condition, or are at risk due to the nature of their chronic illness, these patients are asking their peers to keep them in mind when they consider venturing out instead of remaining in self-isolation.

Brittania, a 20-year old young woman from Jamaica, tweeted: ‘Hi, I’m 20 and I have Systemic Lupus Erythmatosus (SLE)/Lupus Nephritis. I take immunosuppressants to keep my body from attacking itself. I’m amongst those who have to self-isolate to stay healthy for a majority of this year. So please keep me/others in mind when you think you ‘can’t stay in’.

Sarah Elliott, from San Francisco, California, added: ‘I have multiple sclerosis (MS) and take an immunosuppressant drug for it. I also have severe asthma and take a controller medication as well. I have 2 kids and I would love to watch them grow up. Please help protect us!’

Nancy Mendoza, an autoimmune patient with Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA), also tweeted: ‘I’ve been on immunosuppressing meds for 15 years for rheumatoid arthritis. Stay home. Flatten the curve. People like me are depending on you.’

Others decided to use the trending hashtag to raise awareness on behalf of a loved one with a chronic illness. A man from Medicine Hat, Alberta, Canada, for example, implored: ‘This is my wife. She is on immunosuppressive infusion therapy battling ulcerative colitis and rheumatoid arthritis. She is among the high risk during this COVID-19 pandemic. I’m putting a face to the most vulnerable. TAKE THIS SERIOUSLY.’

Personally, I am also taking greater precautions as the coronavirus spreads further into our communities, since I take immunosupressant medication for Sjogren’s Syndrome and Hidradenitis Suppurativa. I also have asthma, which puts me at a greater risk for serious pulmonary complications, like pneumonia, since the virus is respiratory in nature. Thankfully, I’m able to work remotely, limiting my exposure to others, and my husband has taken on any duties that require us to set foot outside, including grocery shopping.

Do you or someone you love have an autoimmune disease, and are therefore at a greater risk for complications associated with the coronavirus? If so, please comment below and let us know how you’re handling this public health scare as a #HighRiskCovid19 patient.

Autoimmune Patients Urge Public to Take Coronavirus Seriously

Close-up image of the coronavirus (COVID-19) from the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention.
Image of the coronavirus (COVID-19) courtesy of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

The coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has taken the world by storm, causing what many perceive to be a case of mass hysteria. But for those living with a compromised immune system, the ‘hysteria’ is not unwarranted.

Amber Beckley, a 33-year-old mother from Sandusky county, Ohio, suffers from a rare autoimmune condition called common variable immunodeficiency (CVID). The condition makes her bone marrow unable to produce the antibodies that fight against infections. As a result, she’s terrified of contracting the coronavirus, since she’s a high-risk patient.

“My immune system is at five percent,” said Beckley. “If I caught it, even with treatment from doctors and hospital and ICU, me fighting it off is just not going to happen.” 

Amber Beckley, a 33-year old mother, suffers from CVID, leaving her at-risk for death if she contracts the coronavirus.

Beckley also added that the only way to treat her condition is to get an infusion of antibodies from healthy patients, a treatment she’s been receiving for the last seven years. Unfortunately, her nurse has advised her against leaving the house, to reduce her risk of being exposed to COVID-19 – as a result, she can’t get the life-saving treatment she needs. She also thinks that healthy patients aren’t taking the disease seriously enough.

That’s a position with which Angela Michelle of San Antonio, Texas agrees. Michelle suffers from an autoimmune disease as well – antiphospholipid syndrome (APS), which causes clotting in her arteries and veins. The condition has caused her to have a stroke, and also affects her lung function by causing her to develop pulmonary hypertension. Having a lung disease puts her at an even greater risk if she were to catch the coronavirus, since the virus is respiratory in nature.

“I think it’s been really disheartening for us to see the general public not take it as seriously as we feel like it should be because they don’t think it’s going to affect them. And for us, it does affect us,” she said.

Angela Michelle of San Antonio, Texas, is an antiphospholipid syndrome patient who feels the public isn’t taking the coronavirus as seriously as they should.

Michelle had a medical procedure planned in San Diego, California, but since her flight was cancelled, she’s no longer able to have the procedure done. What really worries her is that medical facilities may become so overwhelmed dealing with the outbreak, that they won’t be able to effectively treat her should she get infected.

Heather Millen, a 42-year-old from Brooklyn, New York, has multiple sclerosis (MS), an autoimmune condition that damages the myelin sheath coating one’s nerves in the brain and spinal cord. She feels that she and others with compromised immune systems have been brushed off by media and politicians alike.

“I feel like people with MS and other people who are high risk are constantly being dismissed,” she lamented. “I feel like the coronavirus is being so underplayed.”

Heather Millen (R) pictured here with her sister (L), an autoimmune disease patient who passed away from H1N1 in 2009.

Millen’s own sister, Denise, also suffered from an autoimmune disease, but passed away when she contracted the H1N1 virus (also known as the ‘swine flu’) back in 2009. Seeing the global health crisis now brings back terrible memories of watching her sister’s body shut down.

“Any time people with MS get any kind of infection, it can be a trigger for their symptoms and make them worse,” said Amesh Amalja, MD and infectious disease expert at the John Hopkins Center for Health Security. “Many are on immune-suppressing medications…So if they do get infected, it could be severe.”

Dr. Murray Cohen, an epidemiologist, adds that it’s important to assess your personal risk for the disease, especially since even mild cases of the disease could lead to pneumonia.

“When we have pulmonary disease, coronary disease, autoimmune diseases — we’ve got no way to fight this virus since there is no treatment,” Dr. Cohen explained. “The only defense you have if you get infected is your immune system fighting that virus. One of you is going to win, and one of you is going to lose.”

That’s why it’s extremely important that even if you’re not high-risk for succumbing to the coronavirus, that you take precautions to help prevent the spread of the virus to those who are immunocompromised. Ultimately, ‘being seen’ is what autoimmune disease patients like Millen want.

“Those people that are being discounted by every news program and government official, they’re people. What about those people?” she countered.

Thank you for reading! If you’re an autoimmune disease patient, what precautions are you taking against the spread of COVID-19? Let us know in the comments below!