At a Glance: Autoimmunity in America

What exactly is autoimmunity? While millions around the country suffer from this chronic condition, there is still much to be known about its causes, manifestations, and cures.  In simplistic terms, autoimmunity describes a condition in which the body’s immune system attacks and damages its own cells and tissue. There are currently 80 different types of autoimmune diseases, including arthritis, celiac disease, multiple sclerosis, type 1 diabetes, and allergies. As we recognize March as Autoimmune Disease Awareness Month, we note that today in the United States, approximately 1 in 5 people suffer from autoimmunity. Let’s take a look at some additional key facts.

  • Medical News Today reports that the prevalence of autoimmune diseases, such as type 1 diabetes, lupus, and celiac disease, is dramatically increasing. For example, from 2001 to 2009, the incidence of type 1 diabetes increased by 23% in the United States.  Unlike type 2 diabetes, type 1 diabetes occurs when an immune system destroys the insulin-producing cells in the pancreas. To get another sense of the significance of autoimmunity in the United States, 50 million Americans live with an autoimmune disease, while 9 million are affected by cancer and 22 million are affected by heart disease.
  • Autoimmune diseases are chronic, which means that autoimmune individuals suffer from the symptoms of their disease throughout their lives. While some medications are used to alleviate the symptoms of these diseases, most treatments are basic, such as altering diet, resting more often, and decreasing stress. To date, there is no official cure for any autoimmune disease.  Additionally, the type of comprehensive, in-depth research needed to determine the cause of these diseases has been somewhat sporadic and lacking. The AARDA notes that the Institute of Medicine finds the United States conducts less research on autoimmune diseases than many other countries.
  • Previous studies of autoimmunity suggest that both genetics and environmental factors may be causes of autoimmune diseases. However, prominent researchers and organizations, like Dr. Frederick Miller of the National Institute for Environmental Health Sciences and the Children’s Medical Safety Research Institute, see environmental factors as the logical, primary explanation for the significant increase in cases. Of the four major autoimmune etiology theories—bacteria/viruses, drugs, chemical irritants, and environmental irritants—three of the four are solely environmental factors.
  • According to the AARDA, autoimmunity is the second leading cause of chronic illness in the United States, but less than 3 percent of the National Institute of Health’s research budget goes towards supporting basic autoimmune research. However, the launch of 92 biotechnology companies dedicated to autoimmune research within the last decade is promising, as are the continued efforts of privately-funded organizations that support autoimmune research efforts.

Though autoimmune research is in its earlier stages, many efforts are being made around the world to combat these debilitating, sometimes deadly, diseases. To learn more about autoimmunity and further research efforts, Dr. Yehuda Shoenfeld and Dr. Ricard Cervera have recently announced the creation of the Autoimmune Syndrome Induced by Adjuvant registry, which will collect reports from physicians around the world on patients who suffer from adjuvant-induced autoimmunity. The registry is intended to compare clinical manifestations, identify common causes, and determine the effectiveness of treatments.

Learn more about autoimmunity and chronic illness by visiting the Children’s Medical Safety Research Institute online today.