Putting MG “under one Umbrella” for Autoimmune Diseases

Although myasthenia gravis was not mentioned in “What’s Wrong with Me?,” an article by Meghan O’Rourke, that appeared in the August 26, 2013 issue of the New Yorker magazine, it plays a huge factor in the linking of all autoimmune diseases under one umbrella category. This linking has the potential for a better understanding of MG, perhaps leading to more comprehensive and faster diagnoses, and possibly generating greater research into our manageable but at present incurable disease.

How exciting! This new classification could help to solve the MG research funding problem, now hampered because of its variable symptoms and relatively low incidence as compared to other diseases such as AIDS and cancer. Virginia Ladd, the president and executive director of The American Autoimmune Related Diseases Association (AARDA), states, “Donors tend to give to specific diseases. And because few people understand the connection between M.S. and ulcerative colitis and Hashimoto’s, no one currently gives to ‘autoimmune’ diseases as a category” or thinks of them as such although all autoimmune diseases may possibly occur in the same way.

This has been my own personal experience. I have a long-time friend with Hashimoto’s disease, and never connected the autoimmunity factor of her illness with my MG. With the two of us, we’ll ask the name of our respective disorders from time to time and leave it at that. We are not alone. According to the New Yorker magazine article, eighty-five per cent of Americans can’t even name an autoimmune disease.

This uncertainty extends to science. The following is an excerpt from Meghan O’Rourke’s article, 'From the start, the study of autoimmunity has been characterized by uncertainty and error. In 1901, the influential German immunologist, Paul Ehrlich argued that autoimmunity couldn’t exist because the body had what he called a ’horror autotoxicus,’ or a fear of self-poisoning. His theory stopped research for half a century until the midfifties. At this time, a young medical student named Noel Rose, who worked with one of Ehrlich’s disciples, discovered thyroid autoantibodies while studying the immunology of cancer. "

It’s estimated that there may be eighty to a hundred autoimmune disorders, including lupus, multiple sclerosis, type 1 diabetes, and rheumatoid arthritis. But their exact definition and the objective measures to study them remain illusive due to the immune system’s complexity. It has not even been determined whether autoimmune dysfunction is the cause or the consequence of the disease!

The good news for putting these autoimmune disorders under one umbrella significantly increases incidence statistics to attract greater research funding possibly becoming as much of a medical frontier today as syphilis or tuberculosis was in the nineteenth century, especially since current case numbers may be increasing at epidemic rates. AARDA estimates that as many as fifty million Americans suffer from an autoimmune illness, more than 75% of them are women.

MG, like other autoimmune diseases, can be difficult to diagnosis. AARDA finds it can take an average of nearly five years and five doctors to say nothing of consultations with different specialists.

Meghan O’Rourke suggests the possibility of establishing clinical autoimmune centers, where a single doctor would coordinate and oversee a patient’s care, similar to what happens at cancer centers. Israel now has one, the first of its kind. We in the United States should advocate for them, too; it would save time and money in the long run.

(Information for this article came from “What’s Wrong With Me?” an article by Meghan O’Rourke published in the August 26, 2013 issue of the New Yorker magazine and the American Autoimmune Related Diseases Association’s website.)


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