Faced with an increasing incidence and prevalence of autoimmune disease in the United States —approximately 23.5 million Americans are affected across the country, according to the NIH — Bonnie Feldman, MBA, DDS, says it is time to acknowledge what she calls “an invisible epidemic.”
“Looking at the bigger picture of all autoimmune diseases together, not only do we have increasing incidence and prevalence that everyone agrees is happening, but we might even say we have an unacknowledged public health crisis,” Feldman, who is founder and CEO of Your Autoimmunity Connection, a consultant and patient advocacy group focused on autoimmune disease, told Healio Rheumatology. “Unlike a disease like cancer, in which the collected data is aggregated, the data around autoimmune disease is still collected individually by each disease.”
She added: “Although there are a hundred different kinds — some rare, some more common — by not collecting data and looking at the bigger picture, we are missing this invisible epidemic of autoimmune disease.”
In recognition of March as national Autoimmune Disease Awareness Month, Feldman, joined by Chase Spurlock, PhD, founder and CEO of iQuity, a data analytics company seeking to improve the speed and accuracy of autoimmune diagnoses, each stressed the importance of early recognition.
According to Spurlock, nonspecific symptoms and tests can sometimes cause providers to be cautious of misdiagnosing a patient, leading them to wait. Recognizing these diseases early enough so that the treatment has long-term benefit is key, he said.
“Autoimmune diseases’ numbers are right up there with heart disease, diabetes and cancer,” Spurlock told Healio Rheumatology. “What we find is that patients often struggle to receive a diagnosis of autoimmune disease. It can take years because often, the symptoms can be nonspecific, and it can be very challenging to say whether or not a patient definitively has an autoimmune disease.”
This lost time can amount to a “long, costly and often frustrating journey” for patients, Spurlock added. In addition, in the event of a misdiagnosis, patients can be subjected to unnecessary treatments and costs.
“It is important to realize that although these diseases are, in many cases, incurable, they are treatable, and the best outcomes are actually the result of early recognition of the disease and early treatment,” he said. “Being able to quickly rule in or rule out certain diseases early is key, so new technologies and new tests that can come into the market and help physicians reach these answers faster can actually lead to better long-term outcomes.” – by Jason Laday