Autoimmune Disease: An Invisible Epidemic and Unacknowledged Public Health Crisis

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The major topics in disease research have been cancer, cardiovascular disease, and diabetes, however, a topic that needs to join that list is chronic disease, especially autoimmune disease. Autoimmune disease is an invisible epidemic. Like the name suggests, it is a disease that commonly leaves no physical traces or symptoms making the patients appear superficially well. It affects 16% of the american population, yet remains under-recognized, under-served, and under-funded. As this continues, the United States is facing a growing financial and social burden managing chronic diseases. Take a look at the numbers:

  • The U.S. already spends 85 percent of health care dollars on people with chronic conditions.
  • Between 2000 and 2030, the number of Americans living with chronic disease is predicted to increase by 37 percent, adding up to 46 million people.
  • Most alarming: 27 percent of children under 19 years old have at least one chronic condition, and 6 percent suffer from more than one.

The under-appreciated contributor to this chronic disease burden is autoimmune disease. This is significant because autoimmune diseases are high-morbidity and moderate-mortality chronic conditions. However, autoimmune diseases are not grouped under one category-instead these  80 to 100 diseases are scattered among various body systems and specialists. As a result, approximately $1 trillion spent on healthcare per year is in treatment of chronic disease and patients cost the system (payers and themselves) $281 billion each year.

A closer look at the numbers available reveals that autoimmunity slips through the cracks. The chart below prepared by the US Governmental Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality scatters autoimmune diseases across multiple categories.

graph 1

Graph 1 — Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality. Multiple Chronic Conditions Chart Book

Two of the most prevalent autoimmune conditions are Hashimoto’s and Graves’ disease — but you wouldn’t know that from this chart as they are lumped into the “thyroid disorders” category. Likewise, “arthritis” lumps all types into one category. So, how much of “arthritis” is actually Rheumatoid Arthritis, Psoriatic Arthritis, Systemic Lupus Erythematosus and other autoimmune diseases of the joints?

Similarly, here’s another chart prepared by Kaiser, the oldest healthcare provider.

graph2

Endocrine disorders are all grouped into one category. How many autoimmune diseases are lost in the endocrine or ill-defined conditions categories? How much of dermatological disease is Psoriasis? Where do Rheumatoid Arthritis, Systemic Lupus Erythematosus (SLE), Crohn’s and Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD), all major autoimmune diseases, fit in?

By not aggregating and considering autoimmune diseases as it’s own category, we are blind to them. We are missing an opportunity to target a large and growing cause of chronic suffering, simply because we haven’t defined it into statistical existence.

Autoimmune Disease is an Unacknowledged Public Health Crisis

While there is some aggregated autoimmune data out there, it has been cobbled together from various sources. The most comprehensive source for autoimmune data is the American Autoimmune Related Diseases Association. However, because of funding limitations this data isn’t current. Here’s what we know:

  • Taken together, the number of people suffering from autoimmune diseases is 24–50 million Americans, 16% of the U.S. population. To put it in perspective, autoimmune disease prevalence equals heart disease and cancer combined.
  • Best estimates of the total autoimmune disease financial burden are around $100 Billion. However, this number was based on data from the last decade and we suspect it to be much lower than the actual since psoriasis (just one autoimmune disease out of 80+) estimated a total U.S. cost of $112 Billion in 2013 alone.
  • Autoimmune diseases are among the top 10 causes of death in girls and women under 65 years.
  • IBD seems to be increasing in children, according to a 12-year study showing an incidence rate doubling over 1991–2002.

So why haven’t we declared war on autoimmune disease as we did on cancer in 1971? Cancer ranks as the second largest cause of death. But, if you combine all the different types of autoimmune conditions, they could threaten cancer’s second place ranking.

One reason cancer gets so much government funding and research attention is that cancers combined are a much bigger target than cancers considered individually. Cancer as a category is easily found, and the myriad of individual cancers are easily combined together.

Additionally, the “invisible” nature of autoimmunity only further hinders its chances of getting more attention and support. Most diagnosed cancer patients look sick (especially under treatment). In contrast, most autoimmune patients look superficially well, even while suffering significant morbidity, lost productivity and debilitating financial stress.

As we mentioned earlier, the autoimmune category consists of 80 to 100 diseases, many very rare, widely scattered over a number of medical specialties, and usually grouped by body system (digestive, joints, metabolic) rather than as a category with common causal mechanisms (immune system attacks own tissues). Consequently, diagnosis and treatment are a notoriously exhausting journey, with patients seeing on average five doctors over three and a half years before receiving a diagnosis.

Getting Autoimmune Disease on the Chronic Disease Map

We are overdue on conducting proper research to understand the causes, patterns and effects of autoimmune disease. We must code, collect or transform the data so that autoimmune diseases can be looked at as a single category in order to calculate the total burden of autoimmunity and get more needed resources and research efforts. Improved tracking of these diseases should allow us to include autoimmune disease in the CDC’s chronic disease prevention approach described below.

graph 3

Autoimmune diseases are already a huge burden, socially, financially and emotionally. We need faster diagnosis, better-matched treatments, and even pre-autoimmune prevention. We already have some of the tools, and through research and analysis, we know we can find much more. We need to start identifying and counting autoimmune diseases to find the resources and give hope to millions of Americans.

DrBonnie360 is Your Autoimmunity Connection to building bridges across the autoimmune abyss. We collaborate with others to reshape diagnosis, treatment, and prevention for autoimmune patients now and for generations to follow.

 

Learn more about autoimmune diseases and find out the best treatments on The Wahls Protocol.

 

Sources

American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists. Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis. 2008. PDF file. https://www.aace.com/files/hashimotos.pdf

Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation of America. The Facts About Inflammatory Diseases. 2014. PDF file. http://www.ccfa.org/assets/pdfs/updatedibdfactbook.pdf

Pietrangelo, Ann, and Higuera, Valencia. “Multiple Sclerosis by the Numbers: Facts, Statistics, and You.” Healthline. n.p. 24 Mar. 2015. Web. 14 Jan. 2016.

http://www.healthline.com/health/multiple-sclerosis/facts-statistics-infographic

Rachakonda, T.D., Schupp, C.W., & Armstrong A.W. “Psoriasis Prevalence Among Adults in the United States.” Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology. 70.3. (2014): 512–516. Web. 14 Jan. 2016.

“RA Statistics.” RheumatoidArthritis.net. Health Union. n.d. Web. 14 Jan 2016. https://rheumatoidarthritis.net/what-is-ra/ra-statistics/

“About Sjögren’s.” Sjögren’s Syndrome Foundation. Sjögren’s Syndrome Foundation. n.d. Web. 14 Jan. 2016. https://www.sjogrens.org/home/about-sjogrens

“Statistics About Diabetes — Overall Numbers, Diabetes, and Prediabetes.” American Diabetes Association. American Diabetes Association. 8 Jan. 2016. Web. 20 Jan. 2016. http://www.diabetes.org/diabetes-basics/statistics/?referrer=https://www.google.com/

Anderson, G. “Chronic Care: Making the Case for Ongoing Care.” Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. 7 March 2010. Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. 11 Jan. 2016. http://www.rwjf.org/content/dam/farm/reports/reports/2010/rwjf54583

“How Much Does the U.S. Spend to Treat Different Diseases?” Kaiser Family Foundation. Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation. n.d. Web. 19 Dec. 2015. http://kff.org/slideshow/how-much-does-the-u-s-spend-to-treat-different-diseases/

DrBonnie360. “Why Is Autoimmune Disease Underserved?” March 2015. Slideshare presentation.

http://bit.ly/1B57pNb

“Autoimmune Statistics.” American Autoimmune Related Diseases Association. AARDA. n.d. Web. 14 Jan. 2016.

http://www.aarda.org/autoimmune-information/autoimmune-statistics/

Brezinski, Elizabeth A. Jaskaran S. Dhillon, and April W. Armstrong. “Economic Burden of Psoriasis in the United States: A systematic Review.”JAMA Dermatology. 151:6 (2015): 651–658. Web. 2 Feb. 2016.

http://bit.ly/1nCOmeg

“US Autoimmune Disorders Diagnostics Market to Cross $6 Billion by 2020, Says Pharmaion.” PR Newswire. PRNewswire. 7 Dec. 2015. Web. 14 Jan 2016.

http://prn.to/1NE0tBI

“Autoimmune Statistics.” American Autoimmune Related Diseases Association. AARDA. n.d. Web. 14 Jan. 2016.

http://www.aarda.org/autoimmune-information/autoimmune-statistics/

Malaty, Hoda M., Fan, Xiaolin, Opekun Antone R., Thibodeaux, Carolyn, Ferry, George D. “Rising Incidence of Inflammatory Bowel Disease Among Children: A 12-year Study.” Journal of Pediatric Gastroenterology and Nutrition. 50.1. (2010). n.pag. Web. 14 Jan. 2016.

http://bit.ly/1Zeg3b6

“About.” Partnership to Fight Chronic Disease. Partnership to Fight Chronic Disease. n.d. Web. 27 Jan. 2016.

http://www.fightchronicdisease.org/about

“National Notifiable Diseases Surveillance System: Cancer.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. CDC. 2010. Web. 14 Jan. 2016.

http://wwwn.cdc.gov/nndss/conditions/cancer/

Casey, Stephanie, and Libby Kane. “Why My Disease Could Send My Family Into Bankruptcy.” ForbesWomen. 9 Jan. 2013. Web. 11 Jan. 2016.

http://onforb.es/1J3mr1a

Center of Disease Control’s Chronic Disease Prevention System

“Believe It or Not.” DrBonnie360. Blog Post. 11 Jan. 2016. http://bit.ly/20xRCXO

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One thought on “Autoimmune Disease: An Invisible Epidemic and Unacknowledged Public Health Crisis

  1. Robin Prowse

    It will be 7 years in June that my body achieved its ‘natural weight’. I shed 50 Kg (110 lbs) to achieve this, and I haven’t put on any weight since. I was 53 years old at the time. So much for “you can’t lose weight after 40” (listen up ladies !)
    During my ‘journey’ I discovered that:
    “It’s not the food we eat that makes us fat. It’s the thoughts we think and the emotions we feel . . . ”
    -RDP

    I found that whilst my body (system) was magnesium deficient I was ‘unable’ to process the emotions that were causing the ‘dis-ease’ in my body (especially ‘excess weight’). Once I ‘balanced’ the magnesium levels I was able to release the emotions that had plagued me for so many years.
    I too had been on the ‘diet roller coaster’ for many years, and also attend 100s of ‘therapy’ sessions and workshops.

    “The constant state of anxiety that pervades our daily lives, the aggression we both feel and experience, is nothing more than our bodies YELLING that ‘something is out of kilter’.
    That ‘something’ is very simply Magnesium deficiency in our bodies. Without Magnesium these symptoms will persist, ‘dis-ease’ will set in and we will die slowly . . . ” -RDP
    The ‘lucky ones’ will die SUDDENLY ! Eventually

    I have now come to the conclusion (having witnessed many others follow the same process) that:
    “ALL ‘dis-ease’ of the body is as a result of unprocessed / stored negative emotions” -RDP

    As ‘autoimmune dis-ease’ is largely ‘gut related’ we have (collectively) found that a high quality Magnesium-Chloride assists in balancing the magnesium in the body, and that the ‘chloride’, assists in producing stomach acid, which further assists with the digestion, and absorption of ‘nutrients’, and reducing the opportunity for ‘autoimmune disease’ to manifest.

    One still has to ‘do the work’ (to release the emotions). There is ‘No Silver Bullet’ that can cure disease (not even pharmaceuticals – sorry to disappoint you). Eating wholesome, nutritional (natural) foods is important too. We have found that the ‘road to health’ is much easier travelled with the ‘assistance’ of a good quality Magnesium-Chloride supplement (also known as magnesium oil’), especially where I live, as the soils are known to be magnesium deficient (thus low or no absorption by food plants).

    Try it. Taken at ‘prescribed doses’ there’s little chance it will do you any harm (maybe ‘loose stools’) . It may even work for you too.

    NB There are situations where you should avoid magnesium supplements. Read instructions on the bottle, or consult a ‘reliable healthcare practitioner’

    Other supplements may aslo help MSM, Collegen . . .
    Oh ! and don’t forget to Love your Self

    “The Light that illuminates the path of Your Future Radiates from Your Heart” -RDP

    Kindest regards, Robin

    Reply

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