March is Autoimmune Disease Awareness Month

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.

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Study Reveals Increased ADHD Risk in Children Born to Mothers with Autoimmune Disease

Australian researchers have found a potential link between ADHD in children and maternal autoimmune disease. Image courtesy of Kids’ Health.

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.

Read the original study published in JAMA Pediatrics here: Association of Maternal Autoimmune Disease with ADHD in Children.

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American Family to Immigrate to Canada After Type 1 Diabetes Diagnosis

The Reseburgs have applied to immigrate to Canada as a result of their daughter’s medical diagnosis. Photo courtesy of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC).

Amanda Reseburg and her husband of Janesville, Wisconsin, have applied to immigrate to Nova Scotia, a province in Atlantic Canada. While Reseburg has always admired the region’s coastal views, the beautiful scenery is not the reason for her family’s desire to move.

Reseburg’s nine-year-old daughter, Molly, was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes, an autoimmune condition in which the body’s own immune system destroys insulin-producing cells, called islets, in the pancreas. Consequently, the body produces little to no insulin, an important hormone that enables glucose to enter cells and produce energy. Symptoms of the condition can include fatigue and weakness, blurred vision, unintended weight loss, extreme hunger, increased thirst and frequent urination, among other complications.

The family is hoping that by moving to the Canadian province, they will receive better insurance coverage and more affordable insulin. Reseburg says her daughter takes six to 10 needles a day of long-acting and short-acting insulin. She is also using a continuous glucose monitoring system, which monitors her blood sugar levels and must be replaced every 10 days.

Reseburg says they have been fortunate thus far- their family has medical coverage through her husband’s employment. However, given the current state of the economy and how closely medical insurance is tied to employment in the United States, she wonders what would happen if he were to lose his job.

Nine-year-old Molly Reseburg was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes, an autoimmune disease impacting her insulin levels. Photo courtesy of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC).

Another consideration is that once their daughter becomes an adult, she may no longer be eligible to be on their insurance coverage. Reseburg said, “I don’t want to tell my kids, ‘Go find a good office job.’ I want them to be able to do what they want to do, and not have to worry about insurance.”

The affordability of insulin is another concern. While she has never had to go across the border to buy insulin, she understands why people do it. “I don’t see America getting on board [affordable insulin] any time soon, so that’s why we’re looking to move,” she explained.

Reseburg has also been frustrated with the lack of consumer choice with her daughter’s medication. Several months ago, her insurance company informed her that they would no longer be covering the insulin her daughter currently takes, and would be switching her to a new type of insulin instead. “We don’t get any say in that whatsoever. They decide what insulin they will allow us to have,” she lamented.

This is particularly concerning due to the fact that her daughter Molly also suffers from a chromosomal condition called Turner syndrome, which impacts the effectiveness of the insulin she takes. And, not only was the type of insulin changed, but the insurance company is covering $75 less, resulting in the family having to pay even more out of pocket for this necessary treatment.

The family has retained an immigration lawyer to help them with their Canadian immigration application. On top of attorney fees, the immigration fees cost several thousand dollars, plus extensive paperwork detailing how the family will be able to adapt to their new country and how they plan to contribute to the economy. The mountain of paperwork is worth it, however, since the family says that if their application is successful, their daughter’s insulin will be covered and she’ll no longer be at the mercy of their insurance company.

While it usually takes about two years to immigrate to Canada, the COVID-19 situation could draw out the process even longer. Nevertheless, the family is hopeful that their plan will pan out. “We’ll get their eventually,” Reseburg said.

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