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Autoimmune diseases a growing problem says expert

Published: 
Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Autoimmune diseases are a large and growing problem, particularly in the Caribbean and the United States(US), as it is the primary cause of certain ailments, such as rheumatoid arthritis, lupus and type1 diabetes. So said Dr Noel Rose, director, Centre for Autoimmune Disease Research at John Hopkins University, who presented on Autoimmune Disease: The Common Thread, during the Caribbean Autoimmune Diseases Summit 2011, at the Hilton Trinidad, St Anns, yesterday. Rose explained that autoimmune diseases are highly diverse and affect every part of the body. “It’s a disease caused or significantly promoted by auto-immunity.” He said while they did not have a cure, treatments for these diverse diseases were getting better.

The reason why there was a challenge in finding a cure, it’s because only when the damage was done, the disease was recognised, he added. Rose said they needed to develop effective treatments, that would treat the cause of the disease and not the symptoms because the symptoms were at the end of the train of events. “We need to get on the train at the very beginning,” he added. He pointed out that the top ten autoimmune diseases in the US included Graves disease, rheumatoid arthritis, Hashimoto thyroiditis, vitiligo and pernicious anaemia. “In the US, 14.7 to 23.5 million people have autoimmune disease and its prevalence is the same as heart diseass (22 million) and twice as cancer (nine million).”

He further explained that autoimmune disease may result from genetic predisposition triggered by environmental factors such as drugs, stress, food, pollutants and viruses, but the environment was more than half of the risk. However, Lawrence Phillips, assistant professor of medicine, division of Cardiology at NYU Langone Medical Centre, presented specifically on clinical manifestations of heart disease in autoimmune disorders. He said autoimmune diseases associated with chronic inflammation would put patients at higher risk of heart attacks. Disease of the heart, he said, was the leading cause of death in T&T. “Heart disease accounted for 24.8 per cent of deaths in 2004, essentially unchanged from the prior year,” Phillips said.

“Many autoimmune diseases can have direct effects on the heart, such as structural heart disease, but also can indirectly increased risk of ischemic heart disease,” he explained. Also the director of nuclear cardiology, Phillips agreed that more active research neededs to be done for autoimmune disease treatment. He pointed out that there were traditional risk factors that impacted on autoimmune diseases. They include hypertension, tobacco use, diabetes, obesity and lack of physical activity. Several studies, he said, have shown increased risk factors in those patients with chronic inflammatory conditions.