Last week I was diagnosed as having an autoimmune condition called Antiphospholipid Syndrome (APS). Having lived the entirety of my 37 years with very good health, I was quite shocked to be told that I had a condition that I would have to manage for the rest of my life. In addition to this, I realised that although I had heard the term “autoimmune” being bandied about quite often, my knowledge of what actually constituted an Autoimmune Condition was non-existent.
After returning home from the specialist with my head buzzing with words I couldn’t contextualise and an armload of printed information, I began my haphazard discovery of the Autoimmune Disorder world.
For the uninitiated and quite briefly, an Autoimmune Disorder is any condition which causes a person’s immune system to mistakenly attack their own tissue, the vast majority of which have no cure. There are over 80 known conditions which are classified as Autoimmune Disorders and this number is growing, ranging from Psoriasis, Rheumatoid Arthritis, Alopecia Areata, Diabetes, Inflammatory Bowel Disease (Irritable Bowel Syndrome), Multiple Sclerosis, Celiac Disease and Systemic Lupus.
In accordance with the vagaries of modern Western medicine, the exact cause of Autoimmune Disorders is not known, and only management of symptoms are recommended. As a friend of mine said recently “Western medicine merely treats symptoms, rather than understanding causes”. Nevertheless, there are known risk factors with respect to Autoimmune Disorders, such as genetics (predisposition), environmental factors (stress, food chemicals), gender (around 3/4 of people with Autoimmune Disorders are female), sex hormones (many disorders are diagnosed during childbearing years) and infection (some symptoms are worsened by certain infections).
After digesting plenty of information, many questions remain not the least of which is “If new Autoimmune Disorders are still being discovered with varying consequences, with no knowledge of what their causes are, and the recognised risk factors are so broad to be applicable to almost anyone, what will we be dealing with in the future when it comes to Autoimmune Disorders?”
If stress can cause a “flare” in symptoms (apparently some Autoimmune Disorders go into remission and “flare” under certain circumstances) then I imagine that many of the health issues everyone experiences could be linked to an Autoimmune Disorder. After discussing my general health history with my specialist it turns out that historical physical symptoms I had attributed to being “rundown” at various times, were actually symptoms of a more serious underlying condition.
How many people are not aware of what they may be living with and what does the future hold? So little is actually known about the triggers of Autoimmune Disorders. DeLisa Fairweather, an immunologist explains “typically, by the time of diagnosis, many elements of the immune system have been activated, and the original triggering events have been obscured,”
It would seem that the future of public health depends on the effectiveness of the immune system and ironically, the future of public illness may be caused by the immune system. As Noel Rose, an immunologist and pioneer in the Autoimmune Research Industry, says “virtually every autoimmune disease we study is increasing in prevalence, and we don’t know exactly why.”