World Autoimmune Arthritis Day 2020: All you need to know about autoimmune arthritis diseases
About 50% of people with an autoimmune arthritis disease don’t get a proper diagnosis or are diagnosed with an undifferentiated disease.
On May 20 every year, the world observes Autoimmune Arthritis Day, an event aimed at raising awareness about autoimmune and autoinflammatory diseases that show up with arthritis as a major component.
The day is being organised since 2012 by a US-based non-profit organisation - International Foundation for Autoimmune and Autoinflammatory Arthritis (AiArthritis).
As per AiArthritis, millions of people have one or the other form of autoimmune arthritis disease in the world and about 50% of people with an autoimmune arthritis disease don’t get a proper diagnosis or are diagnosed with an undifferentiated disease.
Undifferentiated disease refers to when the person doesn’t show clear signs of a single disease but has symptoms of more than one autoimmune arthritis disease.
Autoimmune and autoinflammatory diseases
Our immune system is designed to protect us from harmful substances but when it starts to malfunction and starts to harm healthy cells, it leads to autoinflammatory and autoimmune diseases.
Autoinflammatory diseases occur due to a fault in our innate immune system (the one we are born with). On the other hand, autoimmune diseases occur when our adaptive immune system (the one we acquire after exposure to pathogens or foreign substances) starts glitching.
While autoinflammatory diseases are usually driven by genes and show up early in life, autoimmune diseases are usually triggered by a combination of genetic and environmental factors.
There are more than 100 types of autoimmune and autoinflammatory diseases in the world but only a few of them present with arthritis as a major component.
AiArthritis lists the following as the core autoimmune arthritis diseases:
- Rheumatoid arthritis
- Sjögren's Syndrome
- Psoriatic arthritis
- Systemic lupus erythematosus
- Adult-Onset Still's Disease
- Ankylosing Spondylitis
- Juvenile Idiopathic Arthritis
All of these diseases present with arthritis as an early clinical feature and a major component. However, some diseases may or may not have arthritis as a component. These include, but are not limited to, conditions like sarcoidosis, Crohn’s disease and mixed connective tissue disease. People with gout also experience arthritis but that is not due to the autoimmune or autoinflammatory condition. Also, osteoarthritis is a type of degenerative arthritis that occurs due to wear and tear of joints with age.
Symptoms of autoinflammatory/autoimmune diseases and arthritis
The most common symptoms of autoinflammatory and autoimmune diseases are listed as:
- Severe fatigue that is not relieved with caffeine intake
- Brain fog
- Flu-like symptoms - malaise, nausea, muscle weakness
If you have arthritis too you would have the following additional symptoms that will show up (or flare-up) along with the above-mentioned symptoms and then subside spontaneously:
- Persistent joint pain for more than 6 weeks
- Swollen joints
- Stiffness in the body which worsens with rest
It is important to note that not everyone with an autoimmune arthritis disease will experience the whole list of symptoms.
Autoimmune and autoinflammatory arthritis is difficult to diagnose since the symptoms do not show up in an X-ray for up to 10 years after the onset of the disease. As per AiArthrits, the disease should be diagnosed within 6 months for the best outcome, However, currently, it takes anywhere between 2 to 3 years to identify autoimmune arthritis disease.
Treatment usually includes corticosteroids, disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs, and other drugs to manage inflammation and the effects on eyes, skin, heart etc, if they show up. Exercise and dietary modifications are also suggested.
For more information, read our article on Rheumatoid arthritis
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