Senate Resolution Supports March as National Autoimmune Diseases Awareness Month
Senate resolution S.RES.372, introduced by Michigan Senator Carl Levin, was passed on March 4, 2010 to designate March as National Autoimmune Diseases Awareness Month. The initiative will support the efforts of the American Autoimmune Related Diseases Association (AARDA) to increase awareness and research funding for autoimmune diseases.
AARDA President and Executive Director said, “This is a day of celebration for autoimmune disease patients around the country…fewer than 13% of Americans can name, unaided, an autoimmune disease. This is staggering when one considers that there are 100+ known autoimmune diseases, all of which are chronic, many life-threatening, and that as a category, autoimmune diseases are one of the top 10 killers of women under the age of 65.”
The organization held the first “Autoimmune Diseases Summit” in Washington DC on March 3, with keynote speaker Melissa Joan Hart and AARDA National Spokesperson Kellie Martin, actress from the television series E.R. Ms. Martin lost her only sister to the autoimmune disease lupus. The group also issued a new report called “A Briefing Report on Autoimmune Disease and AARDA: Past, Present, and Future”, examining the current state of autoimmune diseases and its economic and social impact.
The National Institutes of Health (NIH) estimates up to 23.5 million Americans suffer from autoimmune disease and that the prevalence is rising. There are approximately 149 known autoimmune diseases or autoimmune related disorders, with the top seven being Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, lupus, multiple sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis, psoriasis, and scleroderma.
Noel Rose MD PhD, Chairman Emeritus of the AARDA, explains that autoimmune diseases are disorders that occur because of an immune response to the patient’s own body. AD’s do not generally have a simple, single cause and can attack any organ or body tissue, including the skin, the joints, or the gastrointestinal tract. There are two major categories of factors that are involved: genetics and environment. Genetically, susceptibility to autoimmunity is related to a genetic trait called HLA type. Those who inherit this gene have a greater likelihood of developing autoimmune disease. Environmental triggers can include certain drugs, viruses and infections, pollutants and toxins, and some dietary substances.
The AARDA will focus on the following goals for National Autoimmune Disease Awareness Month:
1. Be aware that autoimmune diseases target women; 75% of patients are women. And it is the top 10 leading cause of death in women under the age of 65.
2. Know that autoimmune diseases tend to cluster in families. If your mother had rheumatoid arthritis and your sister had Crohn's disease, you could be at higher risk than usual.
3. Autoimmune diseases are on the rise in the U.S. and around the world, celiac disease has tripled in the past 10 years in Minnesota alone.
4. Because of lack of early diagnosis and onset of treatment, healthcare costs for autoimmune diseases are overwhelming for patients and the healthcare system. AD’s are responsible for more than $100 billion in direct health care costs annually.
5. Everyone should know the facts about autoimmune disease.
The report also calls for clinical training for physicians on AD’s, the creation of autoimmunologists who can provide a full perspective of AD and develop an overall patient management plan, improved therapeutic interventions, and identification of environmental triggers to prevent the onset of an autoimmune disease.