Trying to understand the number of people living with autoimmunity is more difficult than you may think. Being immune to yourself at some level is not so unusual. Actually, it’s quite common.
One in Five
We believe autoimmune diseases (AD) affect 1 in 5 people living in the United States. Many have more than one disease and often — often, several at the same time. A large number of people live with symptoms but are yet to be diagnosed. There are at least 80 identified autoimmune conditions and the number is continually increasing. When one looks at the incidence in America alone, depending on the process of counting, the numbers range from 25-50 million individuals.
What is Autoimmunity?
We all have an immune system made up of various cells, tissues and organs. When operating properly your immune system works to seek and destroy various invaders such as virus and bacteria. But if things don’t go right, the process can harm you. Immune cells can mistakenly target healthy tissue causing a negative response to yourself. This response is called autoimmunity and when triggered, no part of your body is immune to the action.
What Causes an Autoimmune Disease?
While science has made great strides in mapping and identifying various genes involved in autoimmune disease, no one knows definitively why the immune system moves to attack healthy cells. We do know that AD are not contagious. Most experts believe a combination of genes and environmental triggers play key roles. The idea that a genetic predisposition exists within families is not just generally accepted but is proven scientifically.
Who is Affected?
While members of one family over several generations may develop no obvious AD, others will seemingly “out of the blue” present symptoms leading to diagnosis of one or more autoimmune conditions. It appears a mitigating factor referred to as a trigger starts the process. Such “triggers” may include medications, infections, environmental toxins, hormonal changes, stress or even the sun.
Is is worth noting that autoimmune diseases do not visit males and females equally. Rather about 75% of all AD develop in women and children. The reason for this inequity remains unclear but may have to do with hormonal imbalance during youth, pregnancy and menopause.