What are autoimmune diseases?
Autoimmune diseases are a broad category of diseases in which a person’s immune system attacks the body’s tissue. There are more than 100 autoimmune diseases, including rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, psoriatic arthritis, scleroderma, Sjögren’s syndrome, type-1 diabetes, juvenile idiopathic arthritis (JIA), Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, vasculitis, multiple sclerosis, Hashimoto’s thyroiditis and many more. These diseases can affect people in many different ways.
Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is an autoimmune disease and is often misunderstood. People hear “arthritis” and think of older people with sore joints. Many people do not realize that RA is an autoimmune disease and can affect people of any age.
How many people have autoimmune diseases?
Autoimmune diseases affect more than 23.5 million Americans and are a leading cause of death and disability. No two people with an autoimmune disease are exactly alike, and their disease courses and appearances may be unique, too.
What is autoimmunity?
Your body’s immune system is a complex system of defense to keep you healthy and thriving. It’s designed to sense and react to signals of disease or danger to your health and well-being, releasing white blood cells or antibodies to attack invaders such as bacteria, viruses, fungi, parasites and other “bugs.”
In an autoimmune disease, something goes wrong. Your body’s immune system turns against itself and releases white blood cells and antibodies to attack and damage healthy tissue instead of disease-causing invaders.
Not everyone who may be at risk to for an autoimmune disease will develop an active disease. There may be a point for each individual when their autoimmune disease is “triggered” and becomes active, putting autoimmunity into motion.
Possible triggers for autoimmune diseases include:
- Exposure to toxic substances
Autoimmune diseases are more common among women and tend to increase after childbearing years. Clinicians and scientists are unsure if pregnancy increases the likelihood of developing an autoimmune disease.
What puts you at risk for an autoimmune disease?
Your genes likely play a role. There are many genes that could make you more susceptible to getting certain autoimmune diseases. Scientists are learning more about the possible connections between genes and autoimmunity.
How long does it take for someone to get a diagnosis of an autoimmune disease?
In a study of more than 35,000 Americans with RA, the median time to start treatment after first developing signs of an autoimmune disease was 12.1 months. Many patients waited a year or more to get an accurate diagnosis and start treatment. You may have had a similar experience.
Why is a delay in diagnosis a problem?
If you have an autoimmune disease and wait months to get a diagnosis and start your treatment, you’re not just living with pain or debilitating symptoms—you also may be experiencing serious damage inside your body.
In a study, people who waited more than a year to be diagnosed and treated for their RA had more radiographic damage (joint destruction seen and measured on imaging scans) than those who were diagnosed sooner and started on therapy to manage their RA disease activity and inflammation.
When living with an autoimmune disease it is important to see a doctor, get an accurate diagnosis and begin treatment as soon as possible.
What can you do once you have an autoimmune disease, like rheumatoid arthritis?
Autoimmune diseases are chronic and don’t go away. Managing your disease can be easier if you stick to a routine of regular doctor’s appointments, physical exams, blood tests and medications.
Treatments may help you get your autoimmune disease under control, or even into remission—when disease activity is very low. With rheumatoid arthritis, it is important to keep your inflammation in low disease activity. By staying in low disease activity, you may have a lower risk of damage to your joints, heart, lungs, eyes and other tissues, which may be damaged by high disease activity. Managing your symptoms also means you’ll feel better and be able to enjoy your favorite activities.
To manage your autoimmune disease, take medications as your doctor prescribes. There are also things you can do every day to feel better:
How can regular tests help me track my autoimmune disease?
Because you have RA for life, it’s important to keep an eye on your disease activity and how well your treatment plan is working. Vectra® is a molecular blood test that provides a personalized, objective score based on the current level of inflammation in your body.
Your Vectra score can tell you if your RA disease activity is high, putting you at greater risk for joint damage. High or rising scores over time may mean your doctor will try to change your treatment plan and adjust your medications until your score is low. If your Vectra scores are low and stay low, that may mean your treatment plan is working. Check your Vectra score and keep track of other important factors, like symptoms you experience between appointments, on the myVectra app on your smartphone, or learn more by visiting VectraScore.com.