Over 100 autoimmune diseases have been identified and there may be more we are unaware of. AI diseases are exploding in the US, surpassed only by cancer and heart disease. Some 700 million people suffer from some kind of autoimmune disease, worldwide. This article is about the different types of autoimmune diseases that are common in India, especially in women.
Your immune system is what fights off harmful bacteria and viruses that cause disease in your body. Autoimmune diseases occur when your own immune system starts attacking the healthy tissues and organs in your body. AI diseases can happen to anyone, but 80% of the cases are women. Research has not been able to prove exactly why yet, but it may be genetic. It is important to know the early signs of AI. Early detection will slow the progression of the disease. Below we outline 5 typical AI disorders in Indian women and the general symptoms of autoimmune diseases.
About 90% of Lupus patients are women. Systemic lupus erythematosus, (or simply lupus) brings on joint pain similar to rheumatoid arthritis. It can be inherited but tends to affect women of colour: Indian women are two to three times more likely to develop lupus than Caucasian women. Lupus affects many organs in the body, especially the kidneys, heart, and lung, so it comes with a wide variety of symptoms.
Common signs: Fatigue, headaches, hair loss, sun-sensitivity, red rashes on the face, anaemia, swollen feet, legs and hands.
Treatment: Corticosteroids to reduce inflammation and suppress the immune system.
- Rheumatoid Arthritis
Rheumatoid arthritis affects about 4% of American women, but it is the most common form of autoimmune disorder in women in India. Painful inflammatory joint pain spreads throughout the body, from hands, fingers, elbows, to knees and hips. Unlike degenerative arthritis (osteoarthritis), RA symptoms can occur quickly and it is symmetrical, so if your left hand has it, so will the right hand.
Common signs: Fatigue, fever, weight loss, and loss of appetite.
Treatment: RA patients require a lot of physical rehabs to improve their mobility.
- Hashimoto’s or Thyroiditis
Thyroiditis occurs when the immune system attacks the thyroid, and it usually leads to thyroid hormone deficiency (hypothyroidism). Hashimoto’s disease affects 14 million Americans, but it is also a common thyroid disease in India, especially among middle-aged women. It can lead to a swelling in the base of the throat (aka goitre).
Common symptoms of this autoimmune disorder: Fatigue, weight gain, moodiness, hormone imbalances, cold hands/feet, dry skin and nails, hair loss, constipation and joint/muscle pain.
Treatment: Thyroid replacement hormone medicines.
- Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD and Celiac)
Most people do not think of bowel disease or gluten intolerance and celiac disease as autoimmune diseases. But they can lead to Crohn’s Disease (CD) and Ulcerative Colitis (UC), the 2 more serious and chronic inflammations of the digestive tract. If left untreated, it can lead to bowel dysfunction and even colon cancer.
India faces over 12 lakh IBD cases each year and we are the highest among all Southeast Asian countries. Plus, IBD can happen at any age, although it usually happens in young adults and by age 40.
Symptoms: Fever and fatigue. Abdominal pain and cramping. Blood in your stool. Reduced appetite and unintended weightloss.
Treatments: Combination of corticosteroids, antibiotics, anti-diarrhoea, immuno-suppressants, biological agents, and laxatives.
This is one of the few autoimmune diseases that are equally common in men and women. Psoriasis is a chronic skin disease that causes a red, scaly rash on the elbows, knees, ankles, feet, hands and back.
Common symptoms: Plaque psoriasis is the most common. In this case, patches of raised red, itchy skin also appear on the scalp. About 40% of psoriasis patients go on to develop psoriasis arthritis on large joints, like knees and hips.
Treatment: Mild psoriasis is easy to manage with medicated moisturisers and shampoos.
Take Home Message
Autoimmune diseases have tripled in the U.S. in the last 50 years, and they are on the rise in India. There are 80 different autoimmune disorders. Most of them are accompanied by inflammation or swelling, chronic fatigue and a sluggish metabolism. This is common knowledge.
What many people do not realise is:
Women are far more prone to getting an AI disorder than men (we shall discuss how and why later).
AI treatments include a combination of anti-inflammatory prescription drugs and lifestyle changes. Adding natural, organic foods, low-sugar, low-saturated fat and fermented foods help boost immunity. Stress reducing fitness plans like yoga can significantly lower toxins and reduce the risk of autoimmune diseases.
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