There are several reports that point at the rapidly rising cases of autoimmune conditions. For the unversed, autoimmune diseases occur when the body’s immune system mistakenly starts attacking the body’s organs, tissues and cells. This is increasingly an important cause of morbidity in patients.
Dr. Rohini Samant, Consultant Rheumatologist at P.D. Hinduja Hospital & MRC, Mahim, Mumbai outlines the reason, “While many infectious diseases have been better controlled over the years, there is a steady increase in the prevalence of autoimmune diseases. One of the reasons is heightened awareness and understanding about these diseases in the past 2 -3 decades, due to which they are being increasingly recognized. In addition to this, several lifestyle-related factors like dietary habits, sedentary lifestyle, lack of sleep, increased stress, and environmental pollutants contribute to the occurrence of these diseases.”
According to doctors, the cause behind many autoimmune diseases remains unknown, however, one’s genes in combination with other infections or environmental factors and exposures may play a significant role in its onset.
Symptoms to watch out for
Depending on the organ or system involved, there may be a variety of symptoms of autoimmune disease. Often initially, disease-related symptoms occur in isolation and may be mild, leading to a delay in reaching the doctor. However, in general, if any of the following symptoms occurs for over six weeks to 3 months, it should arouse suspicion of autoimmune connective tissue disease. These include
Persistent joint pain
Swelling with morning stiffness
Muscle pains or weakness
Photosensitive rashes on the body
Frequent mouth ulcers
Dryness of eyes and mouth
Tightness of skin over fingers and face
Persistent dry cough
A patient with these symptoms should seek help from a rheumatologist/ immunologist.
According to Dr. Sandeep Surendran MD DM, Clinical Assistant Professor, Rheumatology and Clinical Immunology, Amrita Hospital, Kochi, the presentation of autoimmune diseases can range from single organ disease like autoimmune thyroiditis, psoriasis, ankylosing spondylitis and rheumatoid arthritis to multiorgan diseases like systemic lupus erythematosus, Wegner’s granulomatosis and Sjogren’s syndrome. In general, women have twice the incidence of autoimmune diseases when compared to men; with often the disease starting during a woman’s childbearing years (ages 15 to 44).
Does homeopathy have a cure for autoimmune diseases?
Homeopathy, a system of alternative medicine, has a whole branch based on immunity and autoimmune disorders known as Psychoneuroimmunology. Homeopathic physician Dr. Pankaj Aggarwal explains, “As the name suggests, it means psyche-hormones-immunity. And they have a two-way communication with each other. Your stress influences your hormones, which alters immunity. Thereafter, altered immunity and hormones influence the psyche and thereby establish a vicious cycle. All this ultimately leads to diseases we call autoimmune disorders. It takes years to develop and then suddenly the person experiences symptoms like joint pain, which on investigation turns out to be rheumatoid arthritis.” Homeopathy digs deep into the history of a patient and then decides the medicine which can reverse it permanently, claims Dr Aggarwal. He also warns that autoimmune disorders will continue to increase in the coming time.
COVID and autoimmune disorders
Dr Samant shares an interesting early observation in relation to Covid-19 infection is its ability to trigger the new onset of or worsening of existing autoimmune disease. This needs study over an extended period of time.
In children too there have been cases of autoimmune diseases during COVID-19 like the MIS-C (Multisystem Inflammatory Syndrome).
The pandemic also contributed to the delay in diagnosis and treatment of autoimmune disorders due to the difficulty in accessing doctors and patient hesitancy in seeking medical help, particularly in the early part of the pandemic when there was a total lockdown. Added to this was the difficulty in procuring drugs during this period. This was partly mitigated by telemedicine which took off in a big way during the pandemic.