10 facts about autoimmune diseases

  • Autoimmune diseases (AIs) develop when the body’s immune system mistakes healthy cells for harmful foreign ones and attacks them.
  • While there are no reliable figures of how many people suffer from AIs in South Africa, Dr Harold Bloch, physician and specialist gastroenterologist at Vergelegen MediClinic in Somerset West says there could be as many as more than four million South Africans currently living with one or more AIs.
  • Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA) is two - four times more common in women than in men.2 It often first develops in people aged between 40 and 60 years, but can occur at any age.
  • RA is a chronic disease that can last for years. Often, periods of remission occur that may vary from short periods of time to many years.
  • Ankylosing Spondylitis (AS) is a disease that affects young people, presenting at around 26 years of age. About 80% of people affected with AS, will have their first symptoms before 30 years of age, with less than 5% only showing their first symptoms after 45 years of age.
  • With AS, the body’s immune system invades joint areas in the lower back and in between the vertebrae in the spine. This leads to inflammation and destruction of bone in the area. The body responds to the destruction by building new bone in those areas, which eventually leads to decreased flexibility of the lower back and spine.
  • Crohn’s disease is most commonly diagnosed between the ages of 15 and 40 years and seems to be more common in developed countries.
  • Psoriasis is a common skin disorder affecting about 1 out of 50 people. Plaque psoriasis is the most common form, affecting 8-9 out of 10 psoriasis patients, although there are other rarer forms as well.
  • Inflammation similar to that seen in rheumatoid arthritis may affect psoriasis patients. In fact, about 2 out of 10 people with psoriasis develop a characteristic type of inflammatory arthritis called psoriatic arthritis (PsA).
  • PsA can affect many areas of the body, including the fingers and spine. Inflammation in the area where a tendon and ligament attaches to bone (e.g. Achilles tendon) is also common in PsA.

(Press release, Abbott, September 2012)

(Picture: Senior man with joint pain from Shutterstock)


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