Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Phenoemnal Article on Autoimmune Disease and Crohn's

Excerpted from The Autoimmune Epidemic: Bodies Gone Haywire in a World Out of Balance--and the Cutting-Edge Science that Promises Hope (Touchstone/Simon & Schuster). To read the entire article, check here.

Most of us, at some juncture in our lives, have played out in our minds how devastating it would be to have our doctor hand down a cancer diagnosis or to warn us that we are at risk for a heart attack or stroke. Magazine articles, television dramas, and news headlines all bring such images home.

But consider an equally devastating health crisis scenario, one that you rarely hear spoken about openly, one that receives almost no media attention.
Imagine the slow, creeping escalation of seemingly amorphous symptoms: a tingling in the arms and fingers, the sudden appearance of a speckled rash across the face, the strange muscle weakness in the legs when climbing stairs, the fiery joints that emerge out of nowhere -- any and all of which can signal the onset of a wide range of life-altering and often debilitating autoimmune diseases.

Imagine, if you can: the tingling foot and ankle that turns out to be the beginning of the slow paralysis of multiple sclerosis. Four hundred thousand patients. Excruciating joint pain and inflammation, skin rashes, and never-ending flu-like symptoms that lead to the diagnosis of lupus. One and a half million more. Relentless bouts of vertigo -- the hallmark of Ménière's. Seven out of every one thousand Americans. Severe abdominal pain, bleeding rectal fissures, uncontrollable diarrhea, and chronic intestinal inflammation that define Crohn's disease and inflammatory bowel disease. More than 1 million Americans.

More than 2 million patients. Dry mouth so persistent eight glasses of water a day won't soothe the parched throat and tongue and the mysterious swallowing difficulties that are the first signs of Sjögren's. Four million Americans. And, with almost every autoimmune disease, intolerable, life-altering bouts of exhaustion. If fatigue were a sound made manifest by the 23.5 million people with autoimmune disease in America, the roar across this country would be more deafening than that of the return of the seventeen-year locusts.

And yet, despite the prevalence of autoimmune disease, surveys show that more than 90 percent of people cannot summon the name of a single autoimmune disease when asked to name one specifically.

Think of it -- other than walkathons for multiple sclerosis, how many fundraising walks or lapel ribbons have you seen for autoimmune disease in general? Nearly 24 million Americans are suffering from an autoimmune illness, yet nine out of ten Americans cannot name a single one of these diseases. It boggles the mind.

Each of these nearly 100 autoimmune diseases derails lives. Taken collectively, these diseases, which also include type 1 diabetes, Graves' disease, vasculitis, myasthenia gravis, connective tissue diseases, autoimmune Addison's disease, vitiligo, rheumatoid arthritis, hemolytic anemia, celiac disease, and scleroderma are now the Number Two cause of chronic illness in America and the third leading cause of Social Security disability behind heart disease and cancer. (Acquired immune deficiency syndrome, or AIDS, by contrast, is not an autoimmune disease; in fact, it is entirely different. In AIDS a virus attacks the immune system and destroys it, whereas in autoimmune disease, the immune system leads the attack, mistaking the body's tissue for an invader and turning on the body itself.)

Autoimmune diseases are the eighth leading cause of death among women, shortening the average patient's lifespan by fifteen years. Not surprisingly, the economic burden is staggering: autoimmune diseases represent a yearly health-care burden of more than $120 billion, compared to the yearly health-care burden of $70 billion for direct medical costs for cancer.
To underscore these numbers, consider: while 2.2 million women are living with breast cancer and 7.2 million women have coronary disease, an estimated 9.8 million women are afflicted with one of the seven more common autoimmune diseases: lupus, scleroderma, rheumatoid arthritis, multiple sclerosis, inflammatory bowel disease, Chron's Disease, Sjögren's, and type 1 diabetes. All of these can lead to potentially fatal complications.

Or slice these statistics another way: while one in 69 women below the age of fifty will be diagnosed with breast cancer, according to estimates, as many as one in nine women of childbearing years will be diagnosed with an autoimmune illness, which strike three times as many women as men -- and most often strike patients in their prime. According to the National Institutes of Health, autoimmune disease affects far more patients than the 9 million Americans who have cancer and the 16 million with coronary disease.


1 comment:

Chris said...

Hi!
A very interesting blog!

Possibly some of your readers would be interested in mine too?

Thanks!

Crohn's Disease Blog