March is National Autoimmune Diseases Awareness Month

Sometimes, as focus is put on a number of other diseases and conditions, we forget that there are some diseases that affect more people than we realize. One of the groups of diseases that tends to be overlooked is the category known as autoimmune diseases.

What is Autoimmunity?

The hallmark of autoimmune disease is that the body actually attacks itself. When you are sick, the body’s immune system kicks into gear, attacking foreign substances in the body. However, there are those who have immune systems that are over-active. In these cases, the immune system begins attacking tissues and substances that are normal to the body. As the body attacks itself, you feel terrible. Because of the nature of some autoimmune diseases, it can be difficult to diagnose them at first.

Some of the symptoms of many autoimmune diseases include fatigue, inflammation, high body temperature, dizziness, temperature sensitivity (especially cold) in extremities like the hands and feet, weigh changes, muscle stiffness, anxiety, depression and digestive problems. Autoimmune diseases affect people in different ways; there is no one pattern for autoimmunity.

It is likely that you have heard of some of the autoimmune diseases — even if you didn’t realize what they are. Some of the most well-known autoimmune diseases include rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, celiac, vasculitis, Crohn’s disease and Addison’s disease. There is no cure for these types of diseases; the best that medical science can do today is suppress the immune response by the body.

More Facts about Autoimmune Diseases

In order to help spread the word about autoimmune diseases, the American Autoimmune Related Diseases association, AARDA, is involved in a campaign called 50 Million Strong. The organization is pushing this campaign during March, as part of the awareness. AARDA provided me with some interesting facts about autoimmune disease as part of this effort:

  1. 50 million Americans have an autoimmune disease. This represents a very real health crisis in the United States.
  2. Autoimmune diseases affect more Americans than cancer.
  3. There are more than 100 autoimmune diseases. Additionally, there are suspected autoimmune diseases that have yet to be officially classified as such.
  4. Autoimmune diseases tend to “cluster” in families. If someone in your family has an autoimmune disease, you could be at a higher risk.
  5. Less than 13 percent of Americans can name an autoimmune disease, even though this category of disease is considered as deadly as heart disease and cancer.
  6. Autoimmune diseases target women 75 percent more often than men.
  7. Autoimmune diseases are among the top 10 killers of women under the age of 64.

These facts provide you with something to think about when you are considering your health — and the health of those around you. AARDA is running a campaign to raise money for autoimmune disease. (It is worth noting that AARDA has a four-star rating from Charity Navigator, and most of its revenue actually goes to program expenses.) You can text A-A-R-D-A to 20222 and donate $5 via the Mobile Giving Foundation to help AARDA. You can also learn more about the foundation’s work, and how you can help, by visiting the AARDA Facebook page.

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