According to a recent extensive research study involving 22 million individuals, autoimmune diseases are much more prevalent than previously believed. The findings, published in The Lancet on May 5, shed light on significant socioeconomic, seasonal, and geographical variations in various autoimmune diseases, providing valuable insights into their potential origins.
Autoimmune diseases arise when the immune system, responsible for protecting the body against infections, mistakenly attacks healthy cells instead of foreign invaders. Type 1 diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, systemic lupus erythematosus, and inflammatory bowel disease are commonly observed autoimmune diseases, which manifest in over 80 different forms and affect multiple body areas.
The study examined 19 prevalent autoimmune diseases to understand the trends in their occurrence over time, the most affected demographics, and the potential coexistence of different autoimmune disorders. The researchers found that when considering these 19 diseases collectively, approximately 10% of the population was affected, with 7% of males and 13% of females experiencing these conditions. These estimates surpass previous figures obtained from smaller sample sizes and fewer autoimmune diseases.
Geographical, seasonal, and socioeconomic disparities were also observed among various autoimmune diseases, suggesting that genetic differences alone are unlikely to account for these variations. Instead, these findings indicate the presence of risk factors that can be modified and contribute to the onset of certain autoimmune disorders.
Furthermore, the study revealed that clusters of autoimmune diseases occur on a larger scale and encompass a broader range of conditions than previously documented. These novel patterns offer valuable insights that can guide future studies on shared causes and mechanisms underlying different manifestations of autoimmune diseases.
Shivani Misra, co-author of the study from the Division of Metabolism, Digestion & Reproduction at Imperial College London, remarked on the co-occurrence of multiple autoimmune conditions in individuals. Misra emphasized the need to better understand how age, gender, and socioeconomic factors influence the risk and clustering of autoimmune disorders. This suggests that various autoimmune diseases may share common risk factors, such as environmental triggers or genetic predispositions.
In conclusion, the study's findings highlight the widespread prevalence of autoimmune diseases, their complex interplay with various factors, and the urgent requirement for further research to unravel shared mechanisms and risk factors associated with these conditions.
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