Autoimmune diseases include more than 100 chronic and debilitating conditions such as psoriasis, multiple sclerosis (MS), inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), atopic dermatitis, type 1 diabetes, and multiple forms of arthritis. However, the category remains one of the most misunderstood and under-recognized group of illnesses.
Defining the disease
Autoimmune diseases occur when the immune system’s normal responses go awry. When this occurs, the immune system attacks the very parts of the body it’s designed to protect: healthy cells and tissue. These diseases can affect almost every part of the body, from skin and eyes to the brain, gastrointestinal, and endocrine systems.
Although autoimmune diseases affect an estimated two million Canadians, targeting women three times more often than men, they can be difficult to diagnose. In fact, patients have reported seeing up to five physicians over a span of three or four years before receiving an accurate diagnosis. To complicate the issue, once an individual develops an autoimmune disease, the odds of developing another are increased.
Although autoimmune diseases affect an estimate two million Canadians, they can be difficult to diagnose.
A growing sense of optimism
Fortunately, there is hope for those affected by autoimmune diseases. Indeed, there is a growing sense of optimism in the medical community based on an increased understanding of the immune system, why it becomes overactive, and the role that genetics may play in the evolution of the diseases. The research and development of new therapies are improving patient outcomes and this ground-breaking work will continue in the years to come. We are living in an exciting time where progress in the treatment of autoimmune diseases offers a bright ray of hope for all Canadians.