Diagnosis and Treatment of Autoimmune Diseases
Did you know that there are more than 80 different types of diseases that fall into the category of autoimmune disorders?
These diseases affect more than 50 million Americans, significantly contributing to healthcare costs, morbidity, and mortality rates. According to an estimate, more than 100 billion dollars are spent each year in autoimmune diseases management.[Read our blog post on Autoimmune Diseases to learn more about them] – You can hyperlink the previous post on autoimmune diseases here
The Reason for High Healthcare Costs of Autoimmune Diseases
Autoimmune diseases cause a huge financial burden on the health care system due to two reasons:
I. Their diagnosis is challenging
II. They are incurable
The Challenges in the Diagnosis of Autoimmune Diseases
The exact diagnosis of an autoimmune disease often turns out to be a challenging process for healthcare experts. Their non-specific early symptoms contribute to the challenge. Most autoimmune diseases cause symptoms like fatigue and fever during initial stages, which are highly common and are found in many illnesses. Also, the symptoms of several autoimmune disorders can vary across patients. The symptoms also occur in episodes – they come and go.
Together, all these factors often make the diagnosis of autoimmune diseases a long, complicated, and stressful process. They also increase the chances of misdiagnosis.
How are Autoimmune Diseases Diagnosed?
Unfortunately, there is no single diagnostic test available for autoimmune diseases. For most of these immune disorders, doctors use various tests and a physical examination and close monitoring of symptoms to reach a diagnosis.
The lab tests that doctors typically prescribe to patients with autoimmune disease symptoms include Antinuclear Antibody Test (ANA), Complement test, Erythrocyte Sedimentation Rate (ESR), C- Reactive Protein (CRP), Anti-Cyclic Citrullinated Peptide Antibody (anti-CCP), Rheumatoid Factor (RF), and Complete Blood Count (CBC).
How are Autoimmune Diseases Treated?
Since autoimmune disorders aren’t curable, treatments for the diseases are meant to offer symptomatic relief, reduce inflammation, and control the overactive immune response. The medicines that are most commonly used for this purpose include NSAIDs, corticosteroids, and immune-suppressants.
The doctor may also prescribe some other medications to relieve symptoms, like fever, fatigue, pain, and skin rashes.
Advances in the Treatment of Autoimmune Diseases
Treatment of autoimmune disorders is an area of ongoing research. Scientists have long been working to develop newer drugs and other treatment methods that can offer relief without adverse side effects that conventional treatments generally cause. Fortunately, researchers have found a few promising options.
On potentially beneficial approach that healthcare experts are working on involves the use of peptide analogs of epitopes, associated with the disease, as immunomodulatory drugs. Scientists are also working on Tolerizing Therapies, which seek to induce immune tolerance in patients by causing the increase in antigen-specific regulatory T cells relate to antigen-specific effector T cells. One of these therapies showing promising results involves the use of T cells (or T cell receptor peptides) vaccine to suppress the disease-causing T cells in the patient’s body. Another Tolerizing Therapy being tested in clinical trials involves inducing desensitization with antigens. The antigens that are being tested include certain disease-specific autoantigen peptides and oral collagen type II.
The Sum Up
Autoimmune diseases are among those health problems that can cause debilitating effects. However, their non-specific symptoms often make diagnosis a challenging process. Furthermore, our lack of knowledge about what exactly causes the immune system to malfunction not only makes them incurable but also makes their management difficult. While there are medicines that can help control the symptoms of autoimmune diseases, most of them have adverse (potentially serious) effects. However, the good news is that scientists have made advancements in research on treatment for autoimmune diseases. They have come with a few potentially more viable treatment options for autoimmune disorders and are testing them. So, we can hope that we will have better treatment methods for these incurable diseases in the near future.