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  • Writer's pictureDr. Chris Phillips

Who does rheumatic diseases really affect?

Updated: Aug 15, 2022

Is your family health history littered with autoimmune diseases?

Are you worried about the possibility of developing a rheumatic disease?

Are there certain demographics more susceptible to rheumatic diseases?

These are real concerns of patients we see in our practice. Living with a rheumatic disease comes with a lot of questions - the unknown variables, the potential repercussions, the impact on your mental, emotional, and physical health.

It is natural to want answers. It is okay to want to know. Education is key. If you have an autoimmune disease, gaining knowledge about your particular condition is an important part of the process.

The problem many patients discover is that rheumatic diseases do not have definites.

For example, one person might never develop an autoimmune disease, although they have a strong genetic predisposition to with an extensive family history of such diseases.

On the other hand, another individual might have zero genetic components at play and still end up with an autoimmune disease.

This makes rheumatic diseases difficult to diagnose and complex in nature.

While it is not entirely clear why a person develops an autoimmune disease, let’s explore what we do know about these conditions.

What is an autoimmune disease?

A healthy immune system protects the body. It stands as a defense against disease and infections. When operating at its best, an immune system fights off intruders, like bacteria, viruses, and parasites.

Autoimmune diseases occur when a person’s immune system attacks healthy cells. An autoimmune disease turns your body against itself, attacking what it should be protecting.

What causes an autoimmune disease?

In short, the answer is … a lot of things! There are many contributing factors, including:

  • Genetics and family history

  • Environmental triggers, stimuli, and exposures

  • Nervous system complications

  • Weight, obesity, and metabolic problems

  • Lifestyle choices such as poor diet, lack of exercise, and inadequate sleep

  • Smoking

  • Trauma

  • Stress

  • Hormones

  • Infections

As reported by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, autoimmune diseases “affect more than 24 million people in the United States. An additional eight million people have auto-antibodies, blood molecules that indicate a person’s chance of developing autoimmune disease. Autoimmune diseases are affecting more people for reasons unknown. Likewise, the causes of these diseases remain a mystery.”

What are auto-antibodies?

There is a test that looks for antinuclear antibodies in your blood, known as an ANA test. The presence of these antibodies is an indicator that you might have an autoimmune disease.

Published in Arthritis and Rheumatology, a 2020 study set out “to investigate whether the prevalence of antinuclear antibodies (ANA), the most common biomarker of autoimmunity, changed over a recent 25-year span in the US.”

The conclusion was simple - “The prevalence of ANA in the US has increased considerably in recent years.”

Are autoimmune diseases more common in women than men? If so, why?

Rheumatic diseases affect people of all ages and ethnicities, but statistics show women develop autoimmune diseases more often than men.

On the National Center for Biotechnology Information website, a study published in May 2020 states, “Eighty percent of all individuals affected by autoimmune disorders tend to be women due to variation within the sex chromosomes and hormonal changes.”

The study further explains: “Women have XX sex chromosomes, while men have XY sex chromosomes … the X chromosome also stains for a greater amount of immune-related genes as well as immune regulatory genes, which aids and induces immunological responses in the body. The larger number of genes originating from the X chromosome creates a far greater possibility of a larger number of mutations occurring. This puts women at a greater risk for the development of autoimmune diseases solely due to women having two X chromosomes, whereas men possess only one. The presence of two X chromosomes essentially creates a 'double dose' of genes present on the X chromosome and because of this, predisposes the female to autoimmunity.”

What should I do if I think I have an autoimmune disease?

To avoid permanent damage to your joints and organs, it is vital to receive medical care if you suspect you are dealing with an autoimmune disease.

A rheumatologist is a specific type of healthcare specialist that treats patients living with autoimmune diseases.

Rheumatologists receive specialized medical training to gain unique skills and knowledge about rheumatic diseases, autoimmune disorders, and inflammatory conditions.

It is never too early to receive treatment for an autoimmune disease. Autoimmune diseases progress at different speeds, and a rheumatologist is the best type of doctor to track that progression and formulate a proper treatment plan.

Come see us at Paducah Rheumatology!

Our healthcare team at Paducah Rheumatology can help you manage your autoimmune disease.

We have a compassionate and caring team that is ready to help you live your best life, even amongst the challenges that come with an autoimmune disease diagnosis.

We are accepting new patients and would love the opportunity to meet you!

Give us a call today at 270-408-6100.

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