Throughout March, patient and research advocacy groups are observing Autoimmune Awareness Month. There are an estimated 23.5 million Americans suffering from one of nearly 100 autoimmune diseases. Some autoimmune diseases are rare but more common autoimmune disorders include Type 1 diabetes, Crohn’s disease and lupus.
Autoimmune disease results from the body’s natural defense system attacking healthy cells. The target of this attack can be a specific organ, such as insulin-producing cells in the pancreas in Type 1 diabetes, or it can be more widespread throughout the body, as is the case for patients living with lupus or rheumatoid arthritis.
Autoimmune patients take medication to not only substitute a hormone or enzyme that a damaged organ cannot make, such as insulin, but also medication that suppresses their immune system to reduce further damage to their body. This immunosuppressive therapy must be carefully managed, as too little medication will not impact the autoimmune disorder but too much medication can leave them vulnerable to infectious diseases. There is mounting evidence that autoimmune disorders have a genetic component, meaning that these disorders can be more common in family members of autoimmune patients.
Although March is nearly over, research advocacy is an ongoing effort and we applaud the American Autoimmune Related Disease Association for its efforts. Organizations like AARDA, a Research!America member, work to promote education and public awareness, advocate for increased research funding, and facilitate patient support. You can follow AARDA on Twitter or visit them on Facebook and learn more about their upcoming Autoimmune Walk events.