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Autoimmune Awareness Month (March)

March is “National Autoimmune Awareness Month.” According to the National Institutes of Health, up to 23.5 million Americans (more than seven percent of the population) suffer from an autoimmune disease—and the prevalence is rising.

Autoimmune diseases can lead the body to produce antibodies that will attack the body’s cells, tissues and organs and may occur almost anywhere in the body. Many of these diseases, such as Rheumatoid Arthritis, Multiple Sclerosis and Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis disproportionately occur in women.

Three-quarters of people suffering from an autoimmune disease are women.

This is something I have personal experience with, as I was diagnosed with Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis in 2013. The hypothyroid diagnosis came about five years before that, and I was prescribed generic Synthroid (Levothyroxine) for treatment. Unfortunately, while that medication improved some of my thyroid labs, it did nothing for my symptoms, which continued to worsen. And not all of my thyroid levels were being checked, which is why the Hashimoto’s diagnosis came years after the thyroid issue was discovered.

It is estimated that nearly one-third of the risk of developing an autoimmune disease is hereditary, and the same disease may run in a family. This is certainly true in my example – both my mom and one of my older sisters were also diagnosed with Hashimoto’s. Other risk factors include environmental triggers, such as viruses, bacteria, and even nutritional factors (gluten sensitivity!).

For many people living with an autoimmune disease, it can take several years and visits to multiple doctors before a diagnosis is made. Early symptoms may include fatigue, joint and muscle pain, fever, or weight change. Other symptoms depend upon which part of the body is impacted. Many of these symptoms are nonspecific and often patients are initially misdiagnosed.

Now that you understand the prevalence of autoimmune disease in our country, particularly for women, I’ll be writing additional blog posts on nutritional and lifestyle strategies to address them. Stay tuned!

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