Queen Latifah Raises Awareness about Scleroderma

Queen Latifah with her mother, Rita Owens, who passed away in 2018 after a five-year battle with Scleroderma. Photo credit: Johnny Nunez.

Queen Latifah, an actress, producer and singer, has become an advocate for those living with scleroderma after losing her mother, Rita Owens, to the disease in 2018.

Scleroderma, or systemic sclerosis, is an autoimmune disease that translates from Greek to ‘hard skin’, since hardening of the skin is one of the most visible manifestations of the disease, according to the Scleroderma Foundation. Symptoms of scleroderma can vary widely from person to person, and its effects can range from mild to life threatening. One of the most life threatening effects of scleroderma is that it can cause tissues on major organs to harden. In approximately 25% of patients, scleroderma results in interstitial lung disease, which causes scarring of the lungs and makes it difficult to breathe, which may also be fatal for the patient.

Unfortunately, this is what happened to Rita Owens. A lifelong educator, she passed out when teaching in her classroom. Though she had experienced shortness of breath and dry cough for a while, her family had thought it was just a result of her getting older. It wasn’t until she fainted in front of her students that various tests were done and specialists consulted, when she was finally diagnosed with systemic sclerosis-associated interstitial lung disease (SSc-ILD).

Before her passing, Rita Owens was one of approximately 300,000 Americans who suffer from Scleroderma.

In an interview with Good Housekeeping, Latifah said that the diagnosis came as a total shock to her family, saying, “That was terrifying because now we had to figure out, ‘what does it mean to have this autoimmune disease?’ I had never heard of scleroderma before.”

According to the Scleroderma Foundation, scleroderma affects an estimated 300,000 Americans. It’s onset is most frequent between the ages of 25 and 55, and women are four times more likely to have the disease than men. Localized scleroderma is more common in children, whereas adults are more likely to suffer from the systemic version of the disease that is more widespread in the body. Though the exact cause of the disease is unknown, it’s believed that genetic factors can make one more susceptible to the disease, and that it involves an overproduction of collagen.

Since little is known about the disease, Latifah is partnering with Boehringer Ingelheim Pharmaceuticals to raise awareness as part of the More Than Scleroderma campaign. “The right information and resources are out there and you can start by visiting SclerodermaILD.com. My hope is that I can help make others’ journey with SSc-ILD a little less challenging.”

Though Latifah was devastated to lose her mother after a five-year battle with the disease, she hopes to make a difference in her memory. “I found that knowledge is power when it came to managing my mom’s health, and I want to share what I’ve learned to help others. Anything my mon could do to help someone else have an easier journey, she wanted to be a part of – so it’s important for me to carry on my mom’s mission,” she explained.

To learn more about Scleroderma, visit the Scleroderma Foundation website.

Evidence of Autoimmune Response in Patients with Autism; Family of Woman with Scleroderma Seeks Financial Support

Evidence of autoimmune response in patients with autism

Autism impacts 1 in 59 American children by age eight and can seriously impair social skills and communication, and lead to repetitive behaviors and restricted interests. For the first time, a team of Boston, Massachusetts-based physicians and scientists have published a report detailing evidence of an autoimmune response against brain cells in patients with autism.

Matthew Anderson, MD, PhD, was the lead researcher in the study. His team analyzed brain tissues donated through Autism BrainNet, a non-profit tissue bank, and noticed that over two-thirds of the brains examined contained three uncommon characteristics.

Firstly, they noted the accumulation of immune cells surrounding blood vessels in the brain (called perivascular lymphocyte cuffs). Secondly, they found that there were bubbles or blisters (that scientists call blebs) accumulating around these blood vessels. Finally, upon further examination, they found that these blebs contained debris called astrocytes.

These findings are evidence of an autoimmune response and chronic inflammation in the brains of patients with autism. The scientists also compared the autistic brains to those of non-autistic donated tissues, and the presence of these findings in the autistic patients ‘significantly surpassed’ that of the control cases.

Although this study does not definitively prove that autism is an autoimmune disease, it is a first step in finding evidence of an immune response for this neurological condition. Anderson compared his team’s findings to research that multiple sclerosis (MS) is an autoimmune disease caused by the immune system’s destruction of the nerves’ myelin sheath.

To read more about this astonishing study, click here.

Family of woman with scleroderma seeks financial support

Yesenia Garica, 25, of Newhall, Santa Clarita, California, first began experiencing debilitating symptoms five years ago. However, it took years for her to get a diagnosis of scleroderma – an autoimmune condition that primarily affects the skin.

Symptoms of scleroderma include hardened and thickened skin, ulcers and sores on the skin, joint pain, muscle weakness, intolerance to cold, high blood pressure, blood vessel damage, and scarring of the lungs.

Yesenia has been hospitalized six times and had surgery three times this year alone. As a result, she now weighs a mere 74 lbs. Unfortunately, her health insurance does not cover the medication that she is taking to treat her symptoms. As such, her family has set up a GoFundMe campaign so that Yesenia can continue to take the medication and to cover specialized treatment at UCLA. So far, the campaign has raised $4,700 out of the $10,000 goal.

To learn more about Yesenia’s condition and to contribute to her GoFundMe campaign, click here.

Seeking treatment for chronic illness: when desperation takes over

Allyson Byers was desperate to find a treatment that worked for her painful chronic skin condition.

I recently read an article by Self magazine about a young woman named Allyson Byers who suffers from a chronic skin condition called Hidradenitis Suppurativa (HS). According to the Hidradenitis Suppurativa Foundation, HS causes painful abscesses and boils to form in the folds of the skin, often around hair follicles, such as the underarms and groin. While the exact cause of HS in unknown, it is believed to be autoimmune in nature.

Although the condition isn’t actually rare, with about 1-4% of the general population affected, HS is often misdiagnosed as other conditions, like cystic acne. Patients also frequently don’t tell their physicians about their symptoms due to embarrassment, until they’ve reached stage 3 of the disease (at which point, surgery may be required).

Allyson was fortunate to have been diagnosed six months after the onset of the disease, as a result of a knowledgeable family physician who recognized the tell-tale symptoms. She then went on to see a dermatologist, who prescribed a variety of treatments, from antibiotics, to diabetes medication, hormone-suppressing drugs and even immunosuppressants. But nothing seemed to quell the prognosis of the disease, and eventually, Allyson found herself in so much pain, she couldn’t even raise her arms or even walk, due to the abscesses in her underarms and groin. It even affected her sleep.

Needless to say, she was desperate for a cure- or at least a treatment. Allyson said that in her desperation, she turned to alternative medicine to help. She tried everything from special diets, like the autoimmune protocol (AIP), to supplements and topical solutions (like turmeric, tea tree oil and special soaps). She even saw a chiropractor for a controversial diagnostic test called applied kinesiology, which involves exposing oneself to potential allergens and measuring changes in muscle strength. She spent thousands of dollars on unproven ‘treatments’ in her quest to reduce her painful symptoms.

I know all too well what it’s like to be Allyson—I have HS myself. Unlike her, however, it took six years for me to get a diagnosis (the doctors I had seen in Canada hadn’t even heard of the disease). Before I got diagnosed, I was so desperate for a cure that I purchased different creams, salves and ointments online, that had no medical proof, but that claimed to ‘cure’ my symptoms. One of the salves I bought caused a horrible burning sensation on my skin; another, an oil made out of emu fat (I’m not joking!), did absolutely nothing other than make my skin oily. Some of these so-called ‘treatments’ may have even made my condition worse.

Several members of my family, who are big proponents of alternative medicine, even brought me to a naturopath in the hopes of combating my Sjögren’s Syndrome symptons. I followed various different diets to no avail, took all types of unproven supplements, and even tried chelation therapy, which involves the intravenous administration of drugs to remove heavy metals from the body (this can even result in death). Although I am not against exploring alternative treatments and making lifestyle changes, none of these treatments improved my condition, and they cost even more than science-backed methods.

Like Allyson, I am tired of always trying to ‘chase’ a new treatment, scientific or not, in the hopes of finding a cure. Although I will never truly give up, I would urge others suffering from chronic illnesses not to get desperate; or at least to not allow your desperation to cloud your judgement. If you’re going to try an alternative therapy, at least run it by your physician first, so that you can ensure it’s safe before testing its effectiveness.

Have you had any success treating your condition with alternative medicine? Comment below!

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