8 Most Common Autoimmune Diseases in the United States
If you’ve been a reader for a while, you know that I have Hashimotos. It’s an autoimmune disease that impacts my lifestyle big time. It took me some time to discover the fact that my ailments were, in fact, Hashimotos. So learning about autoimmune diseases, what causes them to flare up, and what helps reduce symptoms was its own grueling journey.
With that being said, I want to start covering more topics related to autoimmune issues. My hope is to maybe help someone out there suffering from similar issues. Or, at the very least, shed some light on the topic in general. So, if you experience fatigue, joint pain, and recurring fevers, you may be experiencing symptoms from an autoimmune disease. And I hope this post helps you. For the rest of you out there, I hope this post can help you help someone struggling with an autoimmune issue.
If you’re unfamiliar with the topic, autoimmune disease is when your immune system is overactive and attacks your healthy cells, mistaking them for foreign bodies. There are numerous autoimmune diseases. All of them come with their share of unpleasant and even debilitating or life-threatening symptoms. It’s estimated that between 23.5 million – 50 million people suffer from autoimmune diseases. And of those living with autoimmune diseases, 80% of them are women like you and me.
Today, we’ll discuss some common autoimmune diseases in the United States so you can familiarize yourself with them. We’ll also take a look at who might be prone to these disorders and how they might manifest themselves in your day-to-day life.
8 Most Common Autoimmune Diseases in the United States
There have been over 80 autoimmune diseases identified. According to the National Institutes of Health, these diseases vary in rarity and in severity. And unfortunately, most have no cure at all. That leaves people like me searching for lifelong treatments to reduce the severity of their symptoms.
Here are 8 common autoimmune diseases in the United States that might be impacting you or a woman you know! I’m going to share as much info as possible to hopefully arm you with the knowledge to identify autoimmune issues quickly. Early detection and identification of the root cause of your ailments can truly be the turning point to a better life. Let’s dive in.
Type 1 Diabetes
Type 1 Diabetes is an autoimmune disease where your body does not produce antibodies correctly. Instead, your immune system attacks good, insulin-producing cells. Insulin helps the body process sugar. Which we all love. But without management of these sugars with insulin injections and lifestyle changes, victims can experience kidney and nerve damage, pregnancy complications, and a slew of cardiovascular problems.
Of the 1.6 million Americans with type 1 diabetes, many experience increased thirst, frequent urination, sudden bed-wedding, extreme hunger, blurred vision, fatigue, irritability, and weight loss, according to the Mayo Clinic.
Like most autoimmune diseases, there is no cure, but you can be aware of you or your risk factors. Family history of type 1 diabetes, certain genetics, age, and distance from the equator all increase your risk of this common autoimmune disease.
Multiple sclerosis can be a particularly devastating autoimmune disease. I hope none of you suffer from this (or any of these, for that matter)!
Individuals can fall victim to muscle stiffness, paralysis, bladder and bowel problems, epilepsy, and more. In this disease, the immune system attacks the fatty tissue that protects the nerves in the brain and spinal cord. This breaks proper communication from your brain to the rest of your body.
People who suffer from MS will experience numbness, tremors, vision problems, slurred speech, fatigue, and that maddening feeling of your limbs falling asleep. Unfortunately, there is no cure, and nearly one million people live with MS.
According to the Mayo Clinic, women between the ages of 20-40 are most likely to be diagnosed with MS. Family history, certain infections, Northern European descent, vitamin D deficiency, other autoimmune diseases, smoking, or residence in temperate climates, like ours in the US and Canada, all increase your chances of developing Multiple Sclerosis.
Systemic Lupus Erythematosus (Lupus)
Everyone experiences lupus differently. It is difficult to diagnose because of this and the fact that it mimics other ailments. The main sign someone has Lupus is a red facial rash that resembles the shape of a butterfly if it were to land on your nose. Unfortunately, the butterfly is not a good omen in this case.
In Lupus, the immune system attacks your organs and causes fatigue, fever, joint pain, skin lesions, and many other symptoms, depending on the person. There is no cure for Lupus. It’s most often found in African American women (though others can get it, too) who have a genetic predisposition for lupus.
Crohn’s affects over 700,000 people in the US. And unlike many on this list, men and women are diagnosed equally. It is an inflammatory bowel disease that disturbs the digestive tract.
When this inflammation in the digestive tract occurs, it can cause diarrhea, abdominal pain, fever, mouth sores, and more. Not fun! It can also have serious and even life-threatening consequences like ulcers, colon cancer, and fistulas. Fistulas are when the intestines fuse with other organs and create dangerous passageways for food.
People of Eastern European descent and a family history of Crohn’s are more likely to be diagnosed. Crohn’s has no cure. However, like other autoimmune diseases, your symptoms can be managed and alleviated with the help of a doctor.
People with psoriatic arthritis are usually first diagnosed with psoriasis, a disease that causes red patches on the skin. About 7.5 million people have psoriasis, and of those, about 10% will develop psoriatic arthritis.
Symptoms include joint pain, foot pain, swollen finger and toes, back pain, eye inflammation, and weak nails. There isn’t a cure for psoriatic arthritis, but treating symptoms can prevent damage to the bones that can cause permanent disability and deformity. And if you’re subconscious about the nails, treat yourself to a manicure. You deserve it!
In rheumatoid arthritis, the immune system mistakenly attacks your body’s own tissue causing issues with joints, skin, lungs, the heart, nerve tissue, blood vessels, and more. You could be at risk if you’re middle-aged (ouch, let’s say 50-years-young), have a family history of rheumatoid arthritis, are a smoker, are overweight, or, you guessed it, if you’re a woman.
Over time, rheumatoid arthritis can cause more severe complications like heart problems, lung disease, lymphoma, and osteoporosis (which weakens your bones). There is no cure, so symptom management is key with a diagnosis like this one.
In celiac disease, the immune system is at it again. This time messing with gluten protein found in wheat, barley, and rye. According to the Mayo Clinic, the immune reaction causes diarrhea, fatigue, bloating, abdominal pain, nausea, constipation, and weight loss.
What’s interesting is that many of those diagnosed with celiac disease (mostly women) experience non-digestive related symptoms as well. Including anemia from iron deficiency, skin rashes, ulcers, joint pain, and even osteoporosis.
The risk of celiac disease rises if you have a family history of celiac disease, type 1 diabetes, Down syndrome, Turner syndrome, Addison’s disease, autoimmune thyroid disease, or microscopic colitis.
The immune system in Hashimoto’s thyroiditis triggers the death of the thyroid’s hormone-producing cells. Women are, again, more likely to get this autoimmune disease, and 15 million people in the US suffer from Hashimoto’s.
Those living with Hashimoto’s, like myself, experience a barrage of difficult symptoms including, but not limited to, fatigue, sensitivity to the cold, lethargy, joint pain, excessive menstrual bleeding, depression, memory and concentration issues, and hair loss.
Your risk for developing Hashimoto’s increases if you are middle-aged, have a family history of the disease, are pregnant or have been exposed to radiation or too much iodine. Additionally, people with other autoimmune diseases like rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, or type 1 diabetes are at a greater risk.
If you have an autoimmune disease, I see you!
So, hopefully, this post sheds some light on the common autoimmune diseases in the United States. Also, remember, we’ve only just scratched the surface of what people with these autoimmune disorders live with every day! All of these examples cause chronic, life-changing symptoms. So even things like working out can be such a challenge, as I discuss in my article, Do’s and Don’ts of Exercising with Hashimoto’s.
Women living with an autoimmune disease continue to pursue careers, raise children, enjoy hobbies, and conquer the world. They are molded to be resilient, passionate, and strong through their battle with an unfair disease.
I myself live daily with the effects of Hashimoto’s, and I still live my life, never letting the disease take my joy. I hope this helps shed some light on a loved one’s disease or gives you some insight into symptoms you might be experiencing.
Finally, a whopping 15% percent of the population suffers from autoimmune disease. So, if you are experiencing symptoms of any of these and have a family history of autoimmune disease, seek help to begin the management of your symptoms! A blood test should give you great insight into your immune health. And, of course, check back in to gain support and guidance through your chronic illness journey. We’re in this together!