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March is Autoimmune Disease Awareness Month

March is National Autoimmune Disease Month, and the American Autoimmune Related Disease Association (AARDA) hopes to educate the public on risk factors, prevalence, and the lack of awareness surrounding the various diseases. An autoimmune disease is a condition where the immune system attacks a specific part of the body. Many autoimmune diseases are on the rise and it’s important that the public be more aware of their own risk factors, symptoms, and treatment options. 

 There are over 100 known autoimmune diseases including rheumatoid arthritis, multiple sclerosis, type 1 diabetes, Chrohn's disease, Addison’s disease, and celiac disease, among others. These diseases target 75% more women than men, and are one of the top ten killers of women under the age of 65. Unfortunately, autoimmune diseases tend to run in families; so if your mom has lupus, you are at a greater risk for developing an autoimmune disease. 

 No new treatments for the majority of autoimmune diseases have been introduced in over 40 years, and current treatments often suppress the immune system, thus increasing the risk of other diseases. In addition, many of the current treatments have long-term side effects. Autoimmune disease diagnosis and treatment need major improvement.

 Current research is focused on genetic predisposition and environmental exposure. Anything that causes chronic inflammation in the body such as stress, diet, lack of exercise, and smoking can eventually lead to the development of an autoimmune disease. Evidence suggests that addressing environmental factors is critical in the study of autoimmune diseases. With education and awareness in March and throughout the year, more people can learn about autoimmune diseases and support efforts to find treatments.