Do rare autoimmune diseases mean a short life expectancy?

Symbolic image of medical research

The research base regarding rare autoimmune diseases is thin, which is why researchers rely on the participation of those affected. © gorodenkoff, GettyImages

There are numerous autoimmune diseases. This is a mismanagement of the immune system, which causes the body to attack its own structures such as organs and cells. Autoimmune diseases can sometimes be very dangerous for the patient because, in the worst case, they can be fatal. There are not always good forms of therapy.

Early detection is the most important step

Researchers have been working for years to find out how autoimmune diseases develop. This information is essential for the early detection of diseases of your own immune system. In addition to common and well-known autoimmune diseases such as type 1 diabetes, multiple sclerosis (MS) and rheumatoid arthritis, there are also rare autoimmune diseases. The difference here is not just in how many people are affected by the disease. The diagnosis is also similar for rare autoimmune diseases Myasthenia gravislupus erythematosus or Guillain-Barré syndrome.

Because the diseases are so rare, there is only a small research base and doctors do not necessarily test for these diseases first. An early diagnosis can save lives. The earlier an autoimmune disease is detected, the better it can be treated in most cases. This means that the life expectancy of patients is significantly extended.

Research helps to find forms of therapy

Rare autoimmune diseases in particular still receive too little research today. Since there are only a few cases per year, the basis for researchers is small. This makes it all the more important that those affected receive targeted treatment in order to provide data for research projects. The German research association GAIN, short for German multi-organ Auto-Immunity Network, not only tries to decipher which genes could be responsible for autoimmune diseases. In addition, the researchers would like to find out how autoimmune diseases can be treated or possibly even cured.

Those affected who have the opportunity to take part in studies or surveys about their autoimmune disease should therefore urgently take advantage of this opportunity. Particularly in the case of rare diseases, participation can help to find forms of therapy that promise long-term success.

Autoimmune diseases are diverse!

One topic that makes research difficult for doctors is that autoimmune diseases manifest themselves in a variety of ways. There is no “one autoimmune disease” or “one symptom” that unites them all. A basic distinction can be made between organ-specific and systemic diseases. Organ-specific autoimmune diseases include type 1 diabetes, Crohn's disease or Graves' disease (a disease of the thyroid gland). Systemic autoimmune diseases manifest themselves in different places throughout the body. There are transitional and mixed forms here, which make diagnosis and therapy even more difficult. Rheumatoid arthritis, polymyositis (an inflammation of the muscles) and Sjögren's syndrome (an autoimmune disease targeting exocrine glands) are among the systemic variants.

The causes of autoimmune diseases can also be varied. In addition to a disturbed regulation of the immune system, stress, genetic factors, environmental pollutants and viruses, bacteria or parasites can be involved in its development. This diversity further complicates diagnosis and therapy. This means that most autoimmune diseases can currently only be treated symptomatically.

Since there are now many research teams on autoimmune diseases worldwide, there are always new approaches and findings. A few years ago, researchers at Harvard Medical School in Boston put forward the theory that the eye disease glaucoma could be due to an autoimmune reaction. In the long term, the US team's research results could help find a form of therapy against glaucoma that inhibits the progression of the disease. This could protect millions of people worldwide from going blind.

Conclusion: Therapy saves lives

Research into autoimmune diseases is an important step towards extending the life expectancy of those affected. Early detection is the most important pillar because it makes or breaks the treatment plan. The sooner doctors can make a diagnosis and treat a patient properly, the longer they can lead a largely normal life with their illness. However, it should be said that the diversity of autoimmune diseases makes it difficult to make a general statement. Different diseases occur in different degrees of severity. Some sufferers practically do not notice that they are suffering from an autoimmune disease throughout their lives, while others struggle with serious symptoms in early childhood. In any case, therapy tailored to the individual case is essential in order to maximize life expectancy.

November 6, 2023

Recent Articles

Related Stories